Cairngorms National Park Authority has set out its vision for the next five years, with a focus on restoration and protection of land, habitats and species.
Deer populations will be culled in order to increase restoration of peatlands – a critical store of carbon – and allow growth of 35,000 hectares of woodland. The park also wants to end intensive management of game birds, such as pheasants, and supports new gaming licenses.
With around 40 estates falling within the park’s boundaries, the vision has angered gamekeepers, farmers and other rural workers with claims the plan, which has yet to be agreed, will cost jobs, livelihoods and tied housing in rural areas.
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The Grampian Moorland Group, which represents rural sporting estates from The Cairngorms, Royal Deeside and Aberdeenshire, said it had been “overwhelmed” by the response to an online protest today (Wednesday).
Spokeswoman Lianne MacLennan said: “Around 500 people have helped us reach thousands of people and hopefully the message is getting across to the Cairngorms National Park Authority Board. We feel strongly that there is a need for the Park leaders to heal the growing differences with an important sector and not impose unpopular policies without discussion.”
The national park authority has no statutory power to impose its plan on private estate owners and can only advise them of their own ambitions.
Colin McClean, head of land management at Cairngorms National Park Authority, said the park wanted to work more closely with gamekeepers and other rural workers and ensure they can maintain a stalking income.
He said: “I think their concerns are absolutely genuine and understandable. There is an awful lot of change in the countryside and these changes are always unsettling. Land values are rocketing, which is causing angst, and policy is changing around biodiversity, climate change, peat and woodland and it is causing a lot of insecurity.
“Rural workers are essential to the park – on the management of deer, in the protection of threatened species, they have the skills and the knowledge and the equipment to tackle wildfires. They have a vital role to play and the need for their skills and knowledge is not going away
“There is a lot of sympathy of where they are coming from, but we need to work together.”
Around 30,000 red deer live on open range within the National Park with average densities currently 11.5 per square kilometre. However, the figure varies from four to 20 in some places.
Mr McClean said three out of five deer management groups already met the 2030 target of 5 to 8 deer per square kilometre, although numbers in the south – roughly around Blair Atholl and Glen Isla – remain far higher.
Scottish Land and Estates, which represents estate owners, estimates the game and country sports industry is worth over £350m a year to the Scottish economy.
The park authority is now considering some 1,400 responses to its draft plan with potential changes now being considered. A final version will be put on the board in June. It will then be considered by Scottish Ministers.