Blair Atholl. Photo: djmacpherson CC-BY-SA-2.0

Blair Atholl. Photo: djmacpherson CC-BY-SA-2.0

Walkers’  charity Ramblers Scotland welcomed today’s extension of the country’s biggest national park and urged the Scottish Government to establish a new park in the Western Isles.

The Cairngorms national park is being enlarged to take in a large part of Highland Perthshire around Blair Atholl.

Ramblers Scotland’s director Dave Morris said the next step should be to seek World Heritage Site status for the area to safeguard the national park’s unique landscape.

Mr Morris said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government has brought the southern boundary of the park down to Blair Atholl. Outdoor groups have long campaigned for this extension so that the magnificent wild land of Perthshire will be better protected and the local economy of rural communities will be better sustained.”

He said the enlargement had had international support.

“In 2002, in the International Year of the Mountains, the world famous Austrian mountaineer, Kurt Diemberger, stopped in Blair Atholl during his Scottish lecture tour and at a press conference made a plea, on behalf of all mountaineers worldwide, for this national park boundary extension,” Mr Morris said. “And only last week, a conference of 460 mountain scientists meeting in Perth, organised by the Centre for Mountain Studies, welcomed the progress being made in national park development in Scotland, including this Cairngorms extension.”

He urged the Scottish Government to go press for further protection for the Highlands and Islands.

“We must build on this Cairngorms progress by seeking World Heritage Site status for the Cairngorms,” he said. “Little progress has been made since this was first proposed over 30 years ago. But now, with the national park in place, with a proper boundary, we need to make the case to the international organisations – the International Union for Conservation and Nature and Unesco – for World Heritage status.

“Only then will the Cairngorms achieve its proper status in the global system that safeguards our finest landscapes and wildlife areas.

“Secondly, we must now make rapid progress in securing national park status for Harris in the Western Isles.  Local support for such a national park in the Isles is very strong and we must persuade all our politicians that Harris should be Scotland’s third national park.

“At today’s ceremony in Blair Atholl we will hear about studies in the Cairngorms which have demonstrated that national park status has brought substantial economic and social benefits for the Cairngorms which are better than in Scotland as a whole.

“The people of the Western Isles deserve the same opportunity. A national park on Harris will boost tourism levels, help transport services to and from the isles, create employment and safeguard a key environment on our western seaboard.

“Every politician elected to the Scottish Parliament next May should support early designation of Harris as a national park.”

The extension of the national park makes it one fifth bigger and the area now covers about six per cent of Scotland. The 4,528 sq km (1,748 sq mile) national park is twice the size of the Lake District and Scotland’s other national park, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs. 17,000 people live in the Cairngorms national park.

More people are now moving into the park than moving out, with an average increase in population of 260 a year. Almost a third of the area’s economy is dependent on tourism, which brings in £115m a year.

North Tayside MSP John Swinney, cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth, who has campaigned for the inclusion of Highland Perthshire in the Park said: “Highland Perthshire is now where it belongs, and where it should have been all along: within the boundaries of the national park.

“The decision to exclude the area from the original boundaries is one which baffled experts and local people alike. This set in motion a tremendous effort from politicians and local people. I wanted to ensure that this wrong was righted; therefore I introduced my member’s bill in 2006 and continued to campaign tirelessly for the extension of the Park’s boundaries.

“When the new Scottish Government was elected in 2007, I was delighted that the then Environment Minister, Mike Russell, announced that the Government would work towards extending the boundaries. We are now seeing the tangible result of this extension.”

David Green, Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority said: “Highland Perthshire has tremendous natural and cultural value and it offers an enormous amount in terms of recreation. It truly is a great addition to the Cairngorms National Park.

“Through the recent recession the park’s economic and social health has remained strong and this will, I’m sure, benefit Highland Perthshire as it becomes part of the biggest national park in the UK.”

The Adventure Travel World Summit opened today in Aviemore It is the first time the ATWS has been held in the UK and is attracting 600 delegates from more than 50 countries to the Cairngorms National Park.

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