The consultation on the Cairngorms national park plan has generated a huge response, with nearly 1,500 people – residents and visitors alike – making their views known. While 75% of respondents were supportive, fears have been raised over rural workers’ jobs.
The fear of job losses is one shared by every sector in the park. The last few years have thrown up massive challenges to local residents and businesses – Brexit, Covid, spikes in visitor numbers, the energy and cost of living crises. Yet lurking behind these shocks is a deeper, darker challenge. The existential threat that our species, and all others we share the park and the planet with, face from the looming double whammy of climate and biodiversity crises.
Within the park we are already witnessing increasingly unpredictable and often unprecedented weather events. The melting of the Sphinx snow patch, the devastating floods from storm Frank, and winds from storm Arwen have shifted our perception of climate change from a theoretical threat to a real and present danger. The steady decline in black grouse, curlews, lapwings, hedgehogs, dotterel, eels, salmon and sea trout, with changes in flowering dates and butterfly emergence, and rising water temperatures in the Dee and Spey tell us that the very fabric on which the park is built is starting to tear.
We all must face up to and tackle these crises. It is the duty of the Park Authority to use every lever and tool it has to promote measures that will give nature the freedom to adapt and mitigate the worst effects that human industrialisation has unleashed across the globe. Nature is incredibly resilient. With a bit of help, regenerating woodlands and healthy peatlands can suck up carbon from the atmosphere and safely store it in timber and peat. Thriving, scrubby riparian vegetation can shade, cool and slow water flows, reduce flooding, trap silt and peat and provide insect life for fish. Nature too can provide employment opportunities for local communities: tourism, recreation, forestry, agriculture, deer management.
Rather than being threatened, rural worker jobs are essential and must play a key part in the fight for the future of, and our future in, the park. We need more workers restoring peatlands, planting trees, managing deer, monitoring our threatened species. More rural workers engaging with visitors to generate understanding, and income. More outdoor education programmes for local children from the park and outwith to learn how nature works and how we can manage it for all our futures.
Rural workers have the experience and understanding of the ecosystem to not only join but to lead this fight. Uncertainty and fear around change is something we all share. Like nature we all have to adapt, to adjust, to face up to new realities. The norms of two years ago, let alone two centuries ago – when the roots of traditional land management were laid – have changed. We have no option but to roll up our sleeves and to help nature to help ourselves. Rather than threatening jobs, the park plan highlights the urgent need we have for more rural workers.
Mike Daniels is director of policy at the John Muir Trust and vice convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s deer group.
This article was first published in The Scotsman on 24 May 2022.