Scottish Land & Estates and NFU Scotland (NFUS) have spoken out in opposition to plans to extend the boundary of the Pentland Hills Regional Park, amid fears that the uncosted proposals will lead to an unfair and unnecessary burden on farmers and land managers in the area.
The proposals, contained with a Scottish Parliamentary Private Members’ Bill put forward by Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, propose to extend the size of the Pentland Hills Regional Park by over 100 per cent to include the substantive Pentland Hills range.
Over recent years, funding and resources for the existing Park have been under increasing strain as local authority budgets have been tightened and services cut. With local authorities warning that additional funding will not be forecast in future budgets, NFUS and Scottish Land & Estates are suggesting that the Bill has completely overlooked the obvious funding requirements that an extended Park will require.
If passed, the Bill could lead to the incorporation of approximately 20 further farm businesses, which will be unequipped to take on the unofficial stewardship role bestowed upon them to finance essential maintenance, including repairs to paths and fencing.
NFU Scotland’s Regional Manager for Lothian and Borders Kerry Barr said: “The Union is greatly supportive of the public enjoying the countryside and using the land for leisure pursuits. Responsible access to the entire Pentland Hills range is of course available to anyone seeking outdoor educational, cultural or sporting activities through a number of access points. However, it is essential that land taken for public access is maintained so that it can also remain productive for agricultural use.
“However, with Regional Park status comes significant, additional responsibility which has not been accounted for within this Bill. Aside from the obvious funding implications, there will be clear business implications for farmers and land managers who will have to deal with increased tourist numbers without any kind of support or resource from the Park’s governing bodies. These unofficial duties could range from routine maintenance of paths and fencing to dealing with instances of sheep worrying, dog fouling, and cattle disturbances – which, as we know, could have significant ramifications on public safety.
“Farmers across Scotland currently find themselves in a particularly dire situation as market prices continue to fall, and the reformed CAP support system beds in. NFUS urges MSPs to throw out this untimely proposal, in favour of conducting a wide-ranging feasibility study on the Park’s future.”
Anne Gray, Policy Officer with Scottish Land & Estates added “Many of our members both within the existing regional park and in the area of the proposed extension are concerned about the Bill. A major concern is that it raises public expectations about an extended park and the facilities that will be available in the extension area. There is no provision for funding and resources at this stage and therefore all that will change is a line on a map.
Scottish access rights already give the public access to the whole Pentland Hills range, including the area of the proposed extension. To enhance the recreational experience and help farmers and other landowners manage additional numbers, requires at a minimum a good rangers service and improvements in paths and signage. Ideally a visitors’ centre and better parking provision would also be accounted for. A feasibility study into this proposal must be done before it is allowed to proceed any further.”
Scottish Land & Estates written evidence to the Bill Committee is available here...