CAMPAIGNERS pushing for Scotland’s third national park to be created in Galloway have pledged to redouble their efforts ahead of the Holyrood election.
It came as they criticised the “tired old” arguments used by SNP ministers during a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament.
Ben Macpherson, Scotland’s rural affairs and natural environment minister, raised “real concerns” over the costs associated with new national parks.
Addressing MSPs on Thursday, he said: “Although we fully understand the desire to maximise the benefits of the area and the enthusiasm for a new national park designation, the Scottish Government’s position remains unchanged at present, with no plans to designate new national parks in Scotland.”
Mr Macpherson said the two existing national parks – Loch Lomond and The Trossachs and the Cairngorms – have combined annual budgets of more than £18 million in 2021/22.
But campaigners dismissed his arguments. Rob Lucas, chair of the Galloway National Park Association, said it was a “missed opportunity”.
He added: “However, our campaign really begins now.
“We were hugely encouraged by the strong support shown by MSPs of all parties to create Scotland’s third national park in Galloway.
“We would especially thank [SNP MSP] Emma Harper for putting the motion and [Tory MSP] Finlay Carson and [Labour MSP] Colin Smyth for the support they have given to our campaign over the past five years.
“In the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections we will call on all candidates for the local constituency and South Scotland seats to commit their support to creating a national park in Galloway.
“We will also be pressing all parties to have a commitment in their manifesto to create more national parks in Scotland and Galloway in particular.”
The suggested boundary of a Galloway National Park would extend from Dumfries and Galloway into South Ayrshire and East Ayrshire, with all the local councils expressing support.
John Thomson, chairman of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, said: “The Scottish Government’s intransigent stance means that Scotland will carry on falling behind other countries in the UK and across the world.”
He added: “Creating new national parks isn’t a diversion from the problems that [Mr Macpherson] rightly identifies, it’s part of the solution.
“What’s more, the tired old argument that more national parks are unaffordable is just not tenable when Scotland can expect its share of the extra money allocated for nature protection in England, the extra tax revenue that national parks could be expected to generate, and the savings to the health budget that would arise from increased outdoor recreation.
“Why can’t the Scottish Government wake up and recognise the opportunities that national parks represent for a 21st century green recovery?”
John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, said: “We are expecting another busy year in Scotland’s countryside as Covid fears and continued restrictions boost the domestic holiday market.
“This will benefit rural areas that raise their profile and present themselves as attractive places to visit – but only if the necessary measures are in place to welcome visitors and manage their impacts.
“I’m talking here about ranger services, toilets, litter bins, car parks and paths, which national parks are expert at providing – more national parks would really help to support local communities in their efforts to avoid being overwhelmed.
“These issues will no doubt be at the forefront of rural voters’ minds when the May election comes round.”
Speaking during the Holyrood debate, Mr Macpherson said the creation of a new national park “requires considerable planning and carries cost implications”.
He said: “Given the considerations that I have outlined, we believe that, at present, it is essential to focus support on our two existing national parks to ensure that they continue their valuable contribution to tourism and sustainable rural economic development.”