NOMINATIONS have opened for Scotland’s next national park, with the process set to be entirely driven by local communities and organisations.

As part of the SNP’s cooperation agreement with the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government agreed to establish at least one new national park in Scotland by 2026.

While communities were welcomed to express an interest on behalf of their local area back in May, the official nominations process opened on Thursday.

Detailed guidance on the criteria required to apply has been published.

It states, among other things, that the area must have “outstanding national importance” due to natural or cultural heritage, a “distinctive character or coherent identity”, and have evidence of local support.

The National: Golden eagles can be seen in Cairngorms National Park Golden eagles can be seen in Cairngorms National Park

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Scotland’s National Parks are among our greatest assets.

“They are home to internationally renowned landscapes and nature, and provide outstanding opportunities for recreation and local communities. They also play a crucial role in tackling climate change and protecting our precious natural environment for future generations.

“Now is the time to add to them. We believe that a new National Park should be founded upon local community demand, which is why we are launching this unique nominations process.

“In May we invited early expressions of interest and we have already had a really positive response from communities and organisations across the length and breadth of the country. This is not at all surprising given just how much Scotland has to offer.

“I encourage everyone that is considering putting forward a proposal to read the guidance that we have published on the Scottish Government website, and get in touch to find out about the support available.”

What do national parks do?

Scotland currently has two national parks: Cairngorms National Park and Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

They were created more than 20 years ago with the aim of conserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the areas while simultaneously promoting sustainable use of natural resources.

However, conservation and rewilding organisations have previously criticised the parks for failing to adequately protect nature.

The National: Some ecologists believe existing parks aren't doing enough to protect biodiversitySome ecologists believe existing parks aren't doing enough to protect biodiversity

For example, there are no formally designated areas within the existing national parks set aside solely for nature restoration.

The presence of grouse moors, intensive farming and large infrastructure projects within the bounds of the park have also been criticised.

According to a poll conducted in April on behalf of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance, 74% of Scots want to see national parks become “wilder”.

Which areas have already expressed an interest?

So far, ten areas have said they would be interested in becoming Scotland’s next national park.

They are:

  • Galloway
  • Scottish Borders
  • Tay Forest
  • Lochaber
  • Eilean a' Cheo (Skye and Raasay)
  • Affric to Alladale
  • Glen Affric
  • The Lammermuirs
  • Largo Bay
  • Loch Awe

Dr Heather Reid, the convener of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, said national parks could lead the way in arresting declines in biodiversity.

“It is clear that more than ever we need our National Parks to lead the way in showing what a more sustainable future could look like,” she said.

“Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history and together with the climate emergency, these twin crises are already having an impact on the country our children and grandchildren will inherit.

“The people, communities and natural assets of Scotland’s National Parks – existing and future - can contribute significantly to Scotland’s efforts to restore nature, tackle climate change and have greener economic growth.”

When will the final decision be made? 

The deadline for submissions is February 29, 2024, with all nominations set to be appraised against the criteria set out.

Next summer, NatureScot will carry out a detailed investigation into the area or areas selected to become a new National Park.

Following this it is expected that legislation will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament to legislate a new park by 2026.

"Abdication of responsibility" 

However, not everyone shares the Scottish Government's enthusiasm in making the process community-led. 

Nick Kempe, of parkswatchscotland and a former executive on the committee of Scotland's Campaign for National Parks, said the process was liable to create problems. 

He told The National: "It's extraordinary that the Scottish Government is asking for nominations. 

"It's a complete abdication of responsiblity. Governments should know what areas meet its criteria. 

"Asking local communities to prove that is completely and utterly ridiculous." 

He added: "They're setting up an absolute nightmare for themselves. I'm not saying community consultation isn't important but suppose six local communities all come with proposals that meet the criteria.

"The government then has to adjudicate between all that as well as dealing with all the issues that might arise during these bids. Just look at [Highly Protected Marine Areas].

"It's bizarre pop democracy and could lead to a world of trouble."