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Tories hide forest sell-offs behind flamingos

When I first started writing this column for the Morning Star the selling off of our National Forest was a big issue. It seems it still is, writes PETER FROST

THE Tories have been trying to sell our national forests for years. Public opinion and some high-ranking public inquiries have stopped them getting away with it in the past, but they secretly keep up the campaign to give their rich mates a chance to own some of the gems of our countryside.

Greatest among those gems are the National Parks and various Tory environment ministers from Caroline Spelman in 2010, through Owen Paterson, Liz Truss and now Michael Gove have all had a try at letting greedy developers have a nibble at these important places.

One of the worst examples was the huge Bluestone leisure development, part of which was finally built in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.   

The legal battle over planning permission for this took many years until the holiday development finally received clearance from the House of Lords.

This was after a strong publicity campaign and a long and expensive legal battle against this kind of development by the Council for National Parks (CNP) and many other local, Welsh and national environmental groups.

An important part of the CNP case was that this would establish a precedent that could allow development on other Parks and protected areas.

Now it seems that CNP argument has proved only too true. Flamingo Land, best known for its garish and noisy Yorkshire Theme Park, has applied for planning permission for a similar development on the peaceful shores of Loch Lomond and some or all of the Scottish Flamingo Park development will be within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

I am not against resorts like Flamingo Land, but it depends where they are to be built. The dramatic Loch Lomond plans call for the destruction of much local wildlife, including ancient woodland with red squirrels and otters as well as many other animals and birds.

The previous wild woodlands will be replaced by lodges, all-weather domes and pools, treetop walkways, a hotel, restaurant, brewery, a monorail, other rides and much more.

All this to be built on what is currently public land but which will be sold off to the developer.

As you would expect, this proposal met with much opposition determined to try and save this world-famous environment. The main issue is who owns Scotland and who should that beautiful countryside be for?

If a large area of Loch Lomond is to be handed over to a private owner for the sake of a high-end inappropriate tourist resort, the damage this will do far outweighs any positives. Even the people behind the Flamingo development admit that the damage will happen but argue economic benefits will be worth it.

With its woodlands, mountains, tranquil lochs, glens, rocky coastline and sea lochs, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is simply stunning and brimming with wildlife. Without the ancient woodland, the wildlife and the unspoilt views, that would no longer be the case.

Its range of habitats support a huge variety of wildlife, some resident and some migrating long distances to spend the summer or winter in this special place. All through the year in sunshine or snow there is always something new to see. 

Off the beaten track you may see majestic golden eagles soaring high on the thermals or catch a glimpse of an otter fishing along the loch edge. 

For younger visitors or those with more limited mobility there is still plenty to discover. The roadside lochs are home to wintering wildfowl such as whooper swans and goldeneyes. There is always the chance of a glimpse of our native red squirrel.

Most of the land that makes up the park is under the stewardship of Scottish Enterprise, a government agency.

It could and should belong to the community and there’s a lot of local interest in taking the site into community ownership. Ultimately, the proposal is still that Tory dream, to sell off public land and forest for profit.

Voices, local and national, raised in opposition need to be heard.

The fact that Scottish Enterprise is choosing to sell it off for a quick profit is just one more example of Theresa May and her Tory government’s sell-off of the family silver.  

We have seen the failure of the privatisation of utilities, railways, some medical services and much more. In every case they put profit before people.

Jeremy Corbyn promised a start to renationalisation at the Labour Party conference, so let’s stop May and her mad crew doing any more damage that will need to be put right by the next Labour government.

We should never forget that the political act that would lead to the establishment of our wonderful National Parks was the famous Kinder Trespass.

This was was a notable act of wilful trespass organised by communist and conservation activist Benny Rothman and members of his Young Communist League branch.

The 1932 trespass was a coordinated protest involving three groups of walkers who approached Kinder Scout from different directions at the same time. The main group estimated at 400 began at Bowden Bridge quarry near Hayfield.

When they reached the plateau of Kinder Scout, there were violent scuffles with gamekeepers determined to protect the highland for private grouse shoots. Five ramblers were arrested and even though trespass was not a criminal offence some received jail sentences of two to six months for offences relating to violence against the keepers.

The mass trespass was a turning point that marked the beginning of a huge political campaign that prompted the establishment of our first National Park in the Peak District in 1949 and would lead to many other such parks and eventually to our right to roam legislation

The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Park was the first of the two such parks established by the Scottish Parliament in 2002, the second being in the Cairngorms.

n As well as being a columnist for the Morning Star Peter Frost was for 10 years a trustee of the Broads Authority helping to run the Broads National Park.

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