THE chairman of a campaign based in Dumfries & Galloway aiming to make the region home to Scotland’s next national park has said a successful bid would provide a “long-term boost to the area”. 

As part of the Bute House agreement, the Scottish Government has committed to establishing at least one new national park by the end of 2026. 

A consultation into what people valued about Scotland’s national parks and what the areas should deliver in future closed at the end of November. 

Rob Lucas is chair of the Galloway National Park Association, a campaign first established in 2016.

He told The National: “The area we have called Galloway is kind of an old term but it includes the western half of Dumfries and Galloway and extends into parts of Ayrshire as well. 

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“When the idea of a new national park was first discussed, we held a conversation with about 2000 people across the area. 

“We’re a small, charitable organisation with a dozen trustees so it was a big undertaking. We got a very positive indication that people wanted us to take this forward.”

Lucas said that 84% of those surveyed were in favour of bringing a national park to the area which he said was “much stronger support” than the group initially anticipated. 

Asked about the long-term impact of a successful campaign, Lucas said: “It’s not only what it brings to the area but it has a halo effect. 

“A lot of our feedback has been about raising the profile of the area, I think it’s a forgotten corner of Scotland, slightly. 

“We see this as a sustainable and long-term boost. It’s something we can build on and communities can get behind it to make the best of this, and landowners can manage knowing this is the future.”

Scotland currently has two national parks, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, established in 2002 and 2003 respectively. 

Responses to the consultation will be analysed by NatureScot and feedback will be given to the Scottish Government on the kind of criteria a national park is expected to fill. 

However, there has been criticism of the current parks with the Sunday National recently speaking to environmentalists who warned they were “not fit for purpose”. 

Steve Micklewright, convenor of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance called for large-scale nature restoration to be the focus of Scotland’s national parks. 

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater told The National how the importance of “national parks” cannot be overstated. 

“I’m just back from the COP15 biodiversity conference where I can tell you people from all across the world were interested in the work we were doing”, she said. 

“National parks ensure people can enjoy open natural spaces in sustainable ways, by managing facilities for visitors and promoting responsible access and ensuring economic benefits for local communities. 

“By underpinning and opening up a healthy, thriving economy and society with nature and biodiversity at its heart, with proper collaborations, investment and statutory targets, we can protect our environment for generations.”

Lucas echoed those thoughts, saying that there was now more concern for biodiversity and environmental friendliness to be at the heart of plans. 

“I suppose the wider scientific community has spoken about climate change and biodiversity for some time but they’re much more recent in the public eye and I think we recognise now that those need to be addressed”, he said. 

Nikki Sinclair, project manager for the Scottish National Parks Strategy Project, said that although the climate and nature emergency “put more urgency” on what the focus should be, the positives for communities outweigh any negatives. 

She told The National: “I think it’s partly that there is international recognition of a national park brand. People come to visit with a certain expectation that the landscape will be inspiring and well organised. 

“It means you have a dedicated organisation looking after things and it usually involves a ranger service so, for a local community, having that service which mediates between them and visitors is helpful and generally positive. 

“We had experience in lockdown where places were overrun with tourists that didn’t have rangers and that can lead to issues.”

The Galloway National Park Association will formally submit its bid next year.