TWO weeks ago, I was on a high from five superb days in the mountains. Less than seven days later, I felt like weeping.
It wasn’t just the news that an online poll had voted Mrs Brown’s Boys the best comedy of the century, depressing though that is.
It was two other stories that caught the eye, stories which highlight the constant battles going on in our great outdoors.
The first involves proposed plans by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority - fresh from its Draconian camping ban - to charge for access.
The second was a suggestion from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association that there should be a cull of one of our most iconic animals, the pine marten.
Sometimes it seems we can’t do anything right in this country. Here we are with some of the finest access rights on the planet - on paper, at least - and yet every day there’s the feeling they are being trampled underfoot. Just like our chaotic, out of control wind farm policy, it seems no one in authority is prepared to address the problem.
The LLTNPA board is made up of 17 members, five elected by the local community and 12 appointed by Scottish Ministers, six of these following nomination by the local authorities, so you would think public accountability would be a priority.
On the contrary, they act with impunity, undermining access rights, and some of their actions which should be open to heavy scrutiny are instead presented as a fait accompli. The government silence is deafening, their complicity in this privatisation by stealth extremely worrying.
The latest parking charges proposal is contained in a document put out to tender for private companies to run three car parks, at Millarochy, Arrochar and Inveruglas, using an automated number plate recognition system.
Charging for parking is never going to be popular but most people recognise that in certain areas a small fee for a well-maintained car park with the money being used for the upkeep of the facilities is a price worth paying. But the LLTNPA plans are not just about parking charges - they are designed to raise the maximum amount of money possible.
Their statement says the system must “maximise the revenue achieved via all car parks”, and suggest that should this prove successful it will spread, a sure sign that our beauty spots are being viewed as just another cash cow. The logical follow-on is that someone, somewhere will be pocketing a lot of money that should be kept in-house.
They also state that “the service must be able to operate 24 hours a day”, a veiled reference to anyone thinking of getting round their camping ban by sleeping for a few hours in their car. Big Brother is definitely watching you. For a country which continually cries Freedom, it’s a depressing state of affairs.
The ease with which this lot introduce their over-zealous restrictions is only going to encourage others. Just a few days ago, there were rumblings about how a similar ban should be considered at Loch Tummel after some yobs left a mess behind.
Meanwhile, the gamekeepers’ gun sights are turning towards one of our rarest native mammals, the pine marten. They are asking for the animal’s protected status to be removed so they can be ‘controlled’, citing them as a major reason for the drop in the capercaillie population due to raids on the birds’ nests.
The capercaillie became extinct in Scotland around 1785 but was reintroduced some 50 years later. There are fears it may be heading for extinction again.
Strange how gamekeepers are suddenly so worried about one bird while so many birds of prey are mysteriously vanishing over grouse estates. Even RSPB Scotland say the SGA’s argument is full of holes.
We’ve already had massive culls of the mountain hare population on grouse moors and the shooting of beavers while down south badgers have been slaughtered by government decree.
We often talk about rewilding in Scotland. If I were a wolf or a lynx I’d be praying I wasn’t relocated here.