The new National Park proposals
The Scottish Government is currently progressing proposals to establish one or more new National Parks in Scotland and to amend Scotland's National Parks legislation.
The overarching objective of the proposals is to further the Scottish Government's commitments to protect and restore nature, tackle climate change, and promote sustainable land use.
Within this context, Scottish Ministers wish to see Scotland's National Parks as special places for wildlife and biodiversity that will actively support nature recovery and the transformational change needed in approaches to land-use, in order to achieve a just transition to net zero in Scotland.
In recognition of this, the Programme for Government contains a commitment to designate at least one new National Park in Scotland within the current Parliament.
As part of the proposals, a number of initial phases are being undertaken by the Scottish Government. These include the development of appraisal criteria for National Park selection, the consideration of potential changes to the governance arrangements for existing and new National Parks, and the consideration of potential amendments to the aims, purpose and functions of existing and new National Parks.
Strategic Environmental Assessment for the new National Park proposals
To support the development of the new National Park proposals, an independent Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is being undertaken.
SEA is a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed plans, programmes, and strategies to ensure environmental issues are fully integrated and addressed at appropriate stages of decision making, with a view to promoting sustainable development.
The SEA is a means of supporting the evidence base for the new National Park proposals, and for providing an opportunity for proposals and alternative approaches to be effectively evaluated in terms of their likely significant effects on the environment. It is being undertaken in line with the procedures prescribed by the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005.
The key stages of the SEA process for the new National Park proposals are set out below:
SEA Stage 1:
- Establish the context and baseline for the SEA
- Identify key environmental issues for The Future of National Park proposals
- Develop the SEA Framework
- Key output: SEA Scoping Report
SEA Stage 2:
- Develop and refine alternatives for elements of the Future of National Parks proposals
- Appraise the significant effects of these alternatives
SEA Stage 3:
- Appraise the draft Future of National Park proposals
- Prepare the SEA Environmental Report for stakeholder engagement
- Key output: Environmental Report
SEA Stage 4:
- Stakeholder engagement on the Environmental Report
SEA Stage 5:
- Monitor the significant effects of the Future of National Park proposals
- Prepare the SEA post-adoption statement
- Key output: SEA post-adoption statement
Purpose and content of this Environmental Report
This Environmental Report, which is the main output of the SEA process, accompanies the Future of National Parks proposals for consultation between September and November 2023.
Its purpose is to:
- Identify, describe, and evaluate the likely significant environmental effects of the Future of National Parks proposals and alternative approaches;
- Provide a perspective on the likely environmental performance of the Future of National Parks proposals and key areas for monitoring during its implementation; and
- Provide an opportunity for statutory consultees, interested parties and the public to offer views on the SEA process carried out to date.
The Environmental Report is the second document to be produced as part of the SEA process. The first document was the combined SEA Screening and Scoping Report (May 2023), which included information about the baseline and the 'framework' against which 'The Future of National Parks' proposals has been assessed.
In line with the provisions of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, this Environmental Report presents:
- An overview of the scoping process for the SEA
- An assessment of the current version of the Future of National Parks proposals, in terms of the likely significant environmental effects of the proposals
- An assessment of alternative approaches relating to the broad principles underpinning the legislative changes and the criteria for new National Parks
- An exploration of the relative merits of taking forward a new National Park in various broad locations in Scotland, recognising the different characteristics of these areas in terms of the potential benefits and disbenefits such a designation would provide
- Proposals for monitoring the significant environmental effects of the Future of National Parks proposals
- The next steps for the Future of National Parks proposals and accompanying SEA process.
The information presented in this Environmental Report has been presented through the following seven SEA topics:
- Biodiversity and geodiversity
- Climate change
- Environmental quality
- Material assets
- Cultural heritage
- Population and human health
Assessment of reasonable alternatives
The assessment of 'reasonable alternatives' is a key element of the SEA process to meet the requirements of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005.
In light of the increased recognition of National Parks' role in addressing biodiversity loss and climate change, and changes in the national policy framework in Scotland, there is potential to amend the general purpose of a National Park Authority and strengthen National Park aims to reflect these issues.
To explore these possibilities further, three options have been assessed through the SEA process. These have explored different approaches to the broad principles underpinning the proposed changes:
- Option NP1: Do not make changes to the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 and do not designate any new National Parks in Scotland. This would be a 'do nothing' option.
- Option NP2: Deliver new National Park(s) in Scotland, with no amendments to the aims, purpose, and powers.
- Option NP3: Deliver new National Parks(s), with amendments to the aims, purpose and powers applicable to all National Parks (these changes would apply to any new National Parks and the two existing National Parks in Scotland).
Chapter 4 of this Environmental Report presents details of the options assessed and the reasoning behind their choice as reasonable alternatives. This is accompanied by an assessment of the options against the SEA Framework developed during scoping.
Assessment of draft proposals
Chapter 4 of the Environmental Report presents an assessment of the draft proposals for consultation relating to the legal framework for and powers of National Park Authorities.
The current proposals have been grouped together to reflect how they are presented within the consultation paper.
- Proposal NNP1: Change to the purpose of National Park Authorities, which provides a greater emphasis on nature restoration and tackling climate change (Question 1)
- Proposal NNP2: Changes to the aims of National Parks (Questions 2 – 5)
- Proposal NNP3: Changes to the application of the National Park 'principle', highlighting that when conflicts arise between the aims of National Parks, National Park Authorities should give priority to the protection and restoration of natural assets, biodiversity and ecosystems (Question 6)
- Proposal NNP4: Role of public bodies operating within National Parks with respect to the National Park aims and 'principle', and the duty on public bodies to support implementation of National Park Plans (Questions 7 – 9)
The key significant effects of the proposals are as follows:
- The proposals offer additional scope for National Parks to deliver actions and initiatives which support climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- Increased focus on 'sustainable management' of natural resources in National Parks will widen opportunities for delivering environmental enhancements beyond the existing scope of the purpose and aims of such designations.
- Due to the additional focus on climate change mitigation, there is potential for renewable energy generation and associated provisions to give rise to adverse impacts on landscape character and ecological assets; likewise changes to the landscape brought about by climate change mitigation measures such as reafforestation or woodland planting may lead to changes to the landscape which do not reflect or engage with historic landscape character. There would be a need for such provisions to be appropriately informed by landscape and historic environment considerations and devised with input from landscape and heritage specialists from the outset.
- The proposals will strengthen the duty on public sector bodies operating within existing and new National Parks. This will support implementation of National Park management plans and will promote greater collaboration between public bodies in support of the National Parks' aims. This will support mutually beneficial environmental outcomes.
- The proposals will reinforce the role that National Parks can have in terms of conserving, enhancing, and promoting Scotland's historic environment, including designated and non-designated assets (and their settings).
- The proposals reinforce the role that National Park authorities have with regard to climate action.
- The proposals provide an additional focus on the enhancement of biodiversity networks and associated ecosystems, and the facilitation of opportunities for nature improvements and recovery. There is a need for such enhancements to be sensitive to the surrounding areas, and take into consideration factors such as landscape character, the historic environment and cultural heritage.
- Proposals will provide additional focus on reinforcing the cultural resilience of the area's communities.
- Proposals will facilitate improved opportunities to connect individuals and communities with National Parks. This will help boost engagement with environmental conservation and enhancement activities.
Overall, the assessment has highlighted that the Future of National Park Proposals have the potential to bring a range of significant medium and long-term positive effects across the SEA topics. Whilst broad ranging, these specifically link to a strengthening of National Park provisions in relation to nature restoration and tackling climate change mitigation and adaptation, and an additional focus of the provisions on community engagement and collaboration. The assessment has also highlighted that there are no likely significant negative environmental effects arising as a result of the proposals.
In this respect, within the context within which they sit, the proposals have the potential to support a wide range of Scottish Government policy initiatives positively and cumulatively. The provisions will also help ensure that the two existing National Parks in Scotland – and any new National Parks that are designated - are more effectively able to support actions which tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies, whilst delivering a wider range of environmental benefits.
The assessment has however highlighted some uncertainties with regards to the effect of nature restoration and climate change mitigation and adaptation activities on the fabric and setting of the historic environment and landscape character. In this respect, there is a need to recognise that not all solutions will be appropriate for the existing cultural landscape and historic environment of areas covered by National Park designations. As such, there is a need for the changes to the principles underpinning existing National Parks and the designation of new National Parks to be accompanied by a recognition of these potential indirect impacts.
Recommendations in light of assessment findings
To help ensure that the environmental value of the proposals are maximised, and the uncertainties identified through the assessment are addressed, a number of recommendations can be made for the implementation of the proposals. For example:
- To facilitate a balance between nature recovery, climate resilience, and wider National Park aims, ecological enhancements should be sensitive to the surrounding areas (e.g., with respect to their special qualities), and exercises in habitat restoration and creation should be carefully selected to complement existing character and setting with input from relevant experts.
- To help maximise benefits to cultural heritage, and limit potential negative effects, appropriate methods for enhancements should be devised with input from historic environment specialists from the outset.
- To further support visitor management, opportunities for sustainable travel and active travel within and to/from new National Parks should be encouraged wherever possible. Any sustainable transport initiatives should be undertaken in conjunction with the protection and reinforcement of the special qualities of the National Park with input from the relevant local and national transport authorities.
Consideration of broad locations for a new National Park
Subsequent to the current consultation on the proposed legislative changes to the aims, functions, powers and governance of National Parks in Scotland, the selection and designation of new National Park(s) will take place.
In light of this ongoing process, it is recognised that it is appropriate at this initial stage for potential broad locations for new National Park(s) to be considered through the current SEA. This is with a view to exploring the relative merits of taking forward a new National Park in different broad locations in Scotland, recognising the different characteristics of these wide areas in terms of the potential benefits and disbenefits such a designation would provide.
Chapter 5 of the Environmental Report therefore presents an appraisal of the potential impacts and considerations associated with taking forward a new National Park in five broad areas in Scotland, as follows:
- North & West Coast and Islands
- North East
These areas align with the five broad regions of Scotland as set out in National Planning Framework 4.
SEA monitoring programme
Schedule 2 of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act highlights that the Environmental Report should include "a description of the measures envisaged concerning monitoring."
Monitoring in SEA is a means of evaluating the environmental performance of the plan or strategy and monitoring compliance through its implementation. It is also a way to check whether the effects predicted in the SEA arise as envisaged, or whether unforeseen issues arise.
Chapter 6 therefore sets out a proposed preliminary monitoring programme for measuring the new National Park proposals' implementation. It pays particular attention to the areas where the SEA has identified potential significant effects and also suggests where monitoring is required to help ensure that the positive effects of the proposals are achieved through implementation.
The current consultation on the proposed legislative changes to the aims, functions, powers and governance of National Parks in Scotland will conclude in November 2023. Following this, the selection and designation of new National Park(s) will take place.
In Autumn 2023 nominations for new National Parks will be invited, and communities will have five months to develop their nominations. All nominations for new National Parks will be considered following the finalisation of an appraisal framework.
In 2024, Ministers will announce their decision on which proposal(s) for new National Park(s) should go forward for designation and a reporter will be appointed to undertake an investigation and report to Ministers. This will include a public consultation on the new National Park proposal(s).
As more detailed information becomes available, it will be important to consider whether any new or previously unidentified significant affects may arise, and whether therefore any additional assessment may be required.
The designation of new National Park(s) will then take place during 2025-2026 through the development of and consultation on a Designation Order, and laying of the Designation Order before Parliament.
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