By CNPA Board Member, Willie McKenna
It’s getting a lot busier in the Cairngorms National Park as lockdown restrictions are eased and the weather finally improves. It’s really heartening to see visitors returning to the area, boosting the local economy, and we especially welcome our first time visitors. We hope they love the Cairngorms as much as we do and make their trips here a regular occurrence.
Our ranger services have an important role to play in welcoming all visitors but I think the first time visitor probably finds the advice and knowledge from rangers particularly valuable. Rangers are a great source of local information like suggestions on where to walk or cycle as well as sharing their extensive knowledge of the Park’s interesting and diverse wildlife.
I was a ranger for many years on Rothiemurchus Estate. It was a varied role, which I enjoyed immensely. One day I would be involved in habitat management to help capercaillie and the next day I would be chatting to visitors about the local history. Sounds idyllic but it wasn’t without its difficulties. I recognise the issues we have experienced in the Park over the last year – lighting fires when you shouldn’t, human waste and litter. These are not new challenges borne out of a global pandemic, but they are more obvious now (thanks to social media) and there is the potential for an increase in this type of behaviour as visitor numbers continue to grow, with more people holidaying at home this year.
The Cairngorms is the UK’s largest National Park and as such, we have room for many visitors, particularly away from the usual locations and out with the traditional holiday months. And that is great for our tourism reliant economy.
With an increase in visitors you are going to encounter more incidences of irresponsible behaviour and it is vital that tourism does not undermine the very things which attract people to the Park in the first place: its landscape, tranquillity, culture, and wildlife.
Until recently the Cairngorms National Park Authority did not employ any rangers directly, instead it funded the existing thirteen services that were already operating in the Park. This arrangement offered value for money to the public purse but more visitors requires more boots on the ground. At the CNPA, after 18 years, we have been able to employ our own rangers working alongside those existing services, bolstering numbers. We also have an excellent team of volunteer rangers that we can deploy to hotspot areas at particularly busy times.
Visitors to the Park should have a safe and enjoyable trip and be welcomed here, while respecting the needs of residents and protecting our wildlife and landscapes. Rangers are key to this. Having spoken to many of our rangers, it appears that where problems do occur, it’s mainly due to lack of knowledge rather than malice, which is encouraging.
For me, it’s about educating people on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) and doing so from a young age. We all have a right to explore and enjoy our countryside but those rights come with responsibilities. Free activity guides for teachers and group leaders are available on the SOAC website