David Stewart visits Glenmore
This week I have been visiting Glenmore Forest Park, one of the premier tourist facilities run by the Forestry Commission.
It is an outstanding example of everything that is good in encouraging people to enjoy and become part of our beautiful mountains, lochs and scenic areas.
Last year Glenmore Forest Park welcomed 300,000 visitors and the visitor centre entertained 100,000 people.
In terms of the facilities available in the National Park there are 132 activities, everything from handgliding, orienteering, canoeing to mountain biking, many of them on Forestry Commission ground.
I was fascinated to hear about the success of the facilities at Glenmore and the hard work of the very modest eight staff who keep it all on track, although I appreciate the benefits to local employment spread much further than just those posts.
My visit is significant now because of a consultation which is currently being held by the Scottish Government, under the auspices of Climate Control, which plans to radically change the way our forests are managed.
The Scottish Government is looking at leasing out at least 25 percent of our national forest estates to private companies.
This has lead to real anxiety amongst forestry staff and others about the impact on staffing, their pension rights and pay conditions for those who would no longer be working for the Commission but for a private employer.
There are a whole range of additional implications to rural and remote communities, including the loss of training opportunities with the Forestry Commission, public access to our forests, and once the payout has been spent there will be 75 years, and possibly more, of lost income.
This will mean a loss of funding for the Forestry Commission which has developed tourism opportunities, husky rides, mountain biking, walking, access for disabled and cyclists who can now ride from Glenmore to Aviemore without touching a public road (other than to cross occasionally).
Initially it seems the sell off plans are for Argyll and Galloway, but the precedent is then established.
This move is being proposed in the name of climate change. We all acknowledge the importance of trees to the planet and it seems bizarre that the Scottish Government would pass responsibility to private companies who will be guided predominantly by profit.
The potential for recreating the kind of success enjoyed in Glenmore Forest will never be replicated if you start removing the Forestry Commission infrastructure tree by tree.
The move jeopardises the future of our forests.
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