The value of National Parks in Scotland

What is the role of Scotland’s National Parks?

  • Scotland’s National Parks are home to internationally renowned landscapes and nature and they bring significant benefits to their local communities.
  • Our National Parks support thriving local economies, manage millions of visitors and protect the natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations. They play a significant role in generating and leveraging investment, creating new employment opportunities and bringing communities together to address local priorities.
  • National Park authorities work closely with partners, businesses, land-owners and communities to develop long term plans for the Park. These plans set out how all those with a responsibility for the National Park will coordinate their work to tackle the most important issues and deliver better outcomes.
  • A good example of this is the Cairngorms 2030 programme, a partnership of over 70 organisations with a total funding value of £42.3m, including the recent announcement of £10.7 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The programme will support 20 projects over 5 years that will benefit people’s health and wellbeing, develop sustainable transport solutions and help Cairngorms to become the UK’s first net zero National Park.
  • National Parks also collaborate with local partners to tackle the climate and nature crises. In Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, the ‘Future Nature’ partnership is taking forward an essential and highly ambitious programme of work to protect, conserve and restore nature within the National Park. In the Great Trossachs Forest, a huge woodland restoration project has seen two million trees planted in 10 years. And in Cairngorms, partners and land managers are working together on Cairngorms Connect – the UK’s largest habitat restoration project - which stretches across 600 square kilometres within the National Park.

National Parks support their local economies

  • National Parks are recognised as key contributors to their local economies. They support economic growth and development through local partnerships and funding programmes. They create new employment opportunities and they help to generate and channel inward investment into the area’s natural resources and visitor economy.
  • For example, Cairngorms National Park has leveraged around £25 million into the National Park since 2003. This is over and above the core funding received from Scottish Government.
  • A recent business survey carried out by the Cairngorms Business Partnership shows that Cairngorms National Park Authority consistently scores highly in terms of the support it provides to local businesses.
  • In Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, a Place Programme is securing investment for key visitor destinations, delivering multiple benefits for visitors, communities, and businesses. In 2023/24, £0.845 million was secured, supporting a £2 million project to transform a popular visitor area at Tarbet, on West Loch Lomond into a sustainable low-carbon visitor hub, supporting the local economy with expanded facilities for the community and visitors.
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority also facilitates a forum for businesses operating in the National Park bringing them together to support joint projects and share information. In 2022, nearly £450 million was generated in the local economy through visitor and tourism businesses.
  • National Parks promote sustainable development through their Local Development Plans. Through their planning roles, park authorities can proactively guide new development and infrastructure to meet the needs of local communities whilst delivering for climate and nature. Both park authorities operate an effective and efficient planning service – there is no extra layer of bureaucracy in National Parks. In Cairngorms National Park, 100% of planning applications called in by the Park authority in financial year 2022-23 were approved. In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, 94% of applications were approved, slightly higher than the national average.

National Parks support rural communities

  • National Parks bring important benefits to the communities within them. They directly support the development and implementation of community-led action plans which also feed into the development of Local Development Plans.
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority has supported communities in the National Park to prepare and deliver community action plans and has grant funded hundreds of community-led projects. The Park Authority is also working closely with 17 community bodies to prepare new Local Place Plans, which identify the community’s priorities and inform investment and opportunities in line with these priorities. The Park Authority is one of the first planning authorities in Scotland to formally register Local Place Plans.
  • The Cairngorms 2030 programme empowers people that live and work within the National Park to develop projects from the ground up. It supports 20 projects that will deliver long term benefits for rural communities, businesses and the natural environment. For example, Cairngorms 2030 has supported the development of Scotland’s first outdoor dementia centre near Aviemore. The new centre opened its doors in July 2022, giving more people with dementia and their families and carers an outdoor space tailored to their needs and a refreshed sense of freedom to explore nature.
  • Cairngorms National Park Authority has also been a key partner within the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership. This £3.6m initiative has focused on rural regeneration, cultural heritage, nature restoration and education and training in the Tomintoul and Glenlivet area, directly benefiting local communities and businesses including farmers and land managers within the area.
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority has supported a number of community hydro projects that generate both renewable energy and income for the local community.

National Parks support responsible access to the outdoors and nature

  • Access rights within National Parks apply in the same way as the rest of Scotland. National Park Authorities also have powers and funding to help them manage specific recreational and access pressures. Land owners and managers benefit from the significant investment made by National Park authorities to develop visitor facilities, provide ranger services and improve path networks.
  • The employment of 47 rangers in the Cairngorms and 20 permanent and 44 seasonal rangers in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park helps the Park authorities to manage busy areas and encourages safe and responsible enjoyment.
  • This includes the management of iconic Loch Lomond, where National Park Rangers use a range of tools and approaches to manage and influence behaviour and activities on the water. This includes enforcement of the Loch Lomond Byelaws. The approach to raising awareness about water safety in the National Park is now shaping how the issue is approached nationally.
  • In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, Rangers were deployed on 1192 patrols throughout 2023. The Park Authority also manages a volunteer programme, which has seen volunteers contribute 16,519 hours across the visitor season at its peak. Volunteers engage with thousands of visitors each year to provide information and advice, support conservation activity and help to maintain the path network.
  • Both National Parks have supported the Mountains and the People project, which has secured National Lottery Heritage funding to address path erosion issues on the most popular mountain paths, whilst also providing training and skills development opportunities for trainees and volunteers.

National Parks help to deliver affordable housing

  • Increasing the availability of affordable housing to meet the needs of local communities and enable local businesses to grow has been identified as a key priority in both of our National Parks and the two Park authorities are working hard to tackle this issue.
  • Through their work on Local Development plans, both authorities are ensuring a continued focus on the provision of affordable housing in their areas.
  • In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park almost 400 homes were approved between 2017-2021, with 216 of those already built. A total of 69% of new houses built between 2018 and 2022 were affordable with specific housing policies in the Development Plan to support the sustainable management of an established rural business (such as a farm) or newly formed croft.
  • Over 2000 new houses have been built in Cairngorms National Park since its establishment in 2003. Between 2016 and 2021 the Park Authority granted permission for 216 affordable units, 175 of which were completed. Currently, 45% of new developments in key locations are required to be affordable (20% above the national requirement) and the park authority’s aim is for this to increase to 75% by 2030.

National Parks support farming and crofting communities

  • Farmers and crofters do not face any additional bureaucracy within National Parks. The rural payments system and land management regime are the same inside National Parks as they are outside. Both National Park authorities operate efficient and effective planning services. In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, 94% of applications were approved in 20232/23, slightly higher than the national average.
  • We value the contribution from farmers in our National Parks and elsewhere to produce high-quality food, while addressing climate change and protecting and restoring nature.
  • We provide Scotland’s farmers and crofters with the most generous package of direct support in the UK - worth over £600 million in 2024-25 - and we are committed to providing direct support in the future.
  • National Parks support farmers and crofters within their area. For example, Cairngorms National Park Authority has provided funding to dozens of farmers over the last two years alone for habitat management, goose management, dry stone wall repairs, mob grazing, capital grants and more. In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, the National Park Authority is working with Scottish Agritourism to support farms to diversify into tourism.
  • Cairngorms 2030 Future Farming initiative is working with six farms within the National Park to trial changing their farming systems to a more regenerative farming model through delivering practical ‘on the ground’ improvements. Progress will be monitored through carbon audits, integrated land management plans and habitat surveys at all participant farms. The learnings from this will be rolled out to other farms across the National Park as it progresses and to the wider Highlands.
  • National Parks also provide many indirect benefits to farmers and landowners through their support to initiatives which are led by local communities and linked to community action plans.

 National Parks support sustainable tourism and the visitor economy

  • Tourism is an important part of the rural economy and our National Parks support sustainable tourism by welcoming, educating, informing and managing millions of visitors.
  • In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, tourism supports 6,200 jobs among a population of 15,000 people who live in the National Park. The National Park Destination Group is working to improve green tourism performance, reduce carbon emissions and to share good practice among businesses.
  • In Cairngorms National Park, visitor numbers have risen from around 1.4 million in 2003 to 1.73 million in 2022, with a total of £353 million being generated within the local economy in 2022 through visitor and tourism related business expenditure. Tourism accounts for around 60% of the economy in Cairngorms and over 40% of employment. This brings opportunities for local communities and businesses, including farming businesses that wish to diversify and benefit from the tourism economy.
  • National Parks help to deliver events that create opportunities for the local economy whilst promoting well-being and outdoor recreation. For example, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs has hosted parts of major national events including the Commonwealth Games 2014, European Championships 2018, and the UCI World Cycling Championships 2023.
  • Both Park Authorities play an important role in the experience of millions of visitors each year through their investment in visitor infrastructure. For example, in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs the Park authority has invested in visitor sites and hubs, support for outdoor learning, sustainable travel developments, ranger services and investment in the Park’s recreational facilities and path network.
  • The Park Authority is also the lead body supporting the West Highland Way, Scotland’s most popular long-distance walking route. An estimated 90,000 walkers enjoy the route every year, supporting the rural communities and 200 local businesses situated around it.

Local communities have a role in the development of Scotland’s next National Park

  • We have committed to designating at least one new National Park in Scotland by 2026, with communities across the country invited to consider nominating their area by 29 February.
  • It is really positive that communities have been coming together to discuss the opportunities in their area associated with National Park designation. This includes opportunities for nature restoration, tackling climate change, protecting cultural heritage, visitor management and local economic development. We look forward to seeing proposals from across the country.
  • One of the criteria for new National Parks is local support and we are asking groups to provide evidence of local community engagement and participation in developing their proposal.

    Once a decision is made on the location of the proposed new National Park, a statutory process will begin. The statutory phase involves extensive engagement and consultation with stakeholders, businesses and local communities in the area where the new National Park is proposed.

Scottish Government
February 2024

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