Good debate at Trust fringe meeting at SNP conference

Panel discuss "Protecting landscapes - what are the costs and benefits"

Snp confererence fringe sept 2016 detail

The John Muir Trust held a very well-attended fringe meeting at the recent SNP conference, where the panel discussed Protecting landscapes – What are the costs and benefits?, prompting considerable interest and discussion from the audience. SNP MP, and former journalist, George Kerevan, chaired the meeting, commenting that he had recently seen the wonderful legacy of John Muir in the US National Parks. He thought the Trust had done amazing work in preserving Muir’s vision to protect the environment in Scotland, though Kerevan believed that there were not enough National Parks in Scotland.

Diarmid Hearns, head of policy at the National Trust for Scotland, quoted elegantly in Gaelic from Donald Ban MacIntyre, emphasising that landscapes mattered to people but that regulation to protect landscapes could become burdensome and that incentives were another useful approach. Ultimately, though, it was how society viewed the environment which was key. Both Diarmid and George highlighted the tension between land for housing and protecting natural landscapes, and noted the human need for everyone’s landscapes to be considered, for well-being.

Calum Macleod, a lecturer at Edinburgh University and native of Harris, discussed the relationship between economic, cultural and environmental issues and felt that protecting landscapes was part of managing landscapes and ensuring sustainability. He thought that land ownership was a crucial part of the equation and so the Land Reform Act and the Community Empowerment Act would have important impacts.

Stuart Brooks, for the Trust, highlighted the importance of quality landscapes for health and wellbeing, but added that there were also a lot of economic benefits from protecting landscapes. Research showed that 94 per cent of people valued landscapes and wanted them protected, and that people came to Scotland to look at the scenery and landscapes, with 58 per cent in one survey stating they came for the environment. He noted that the two Scottish National Parks produced £185m worth of economic activity and highlighted that for every $1 the US spent on its National Parks, they generated $4 of economic activity.

Questions from the audience were very varied, ranging from the problems of uneconomic coal mine sites being left unrestored by the mining companies to the depopulation of rural areas. Stuart Brooks said afterwards that it was a great opportunity for the Trust to engage with party members and councillors, with many taking away information on the Trust.