Biodiversity minister Lorna Slater outlines her views on the benefits of a new national park.

Our national parks are some of Scotland’s greatest assets and symbolic of much of the country’s beauty and diversity of nature and wildlife.

They play a crucial role in tackling climate change and supporting thriving local economies, including rural, farming, and crofting communities.

Last week, the Scottish Borders, Galloway, Lochaber, Loch Awe, and Tay Forest were announced as five potential locations, nominated by their communities, for Scotland’s next new national park.

READ MORE | Scotland's next national park shortlist announced

Since the nominations for a new park opened last year, questions have been asked about what contribution parks have made to farming and crofting, what park status might mean in terms of public access, and any new rules or requirements that might apply.

These are important issues, and meaningful and extensive engagement and consultation will be vital in supporting the development of these community-led proposals, because we are clear that any new national park should meet the needs of the local area.

Local people, including farmers and crofters, will have a chance to have their say on the new park’s boundary, role, and functions, so the park delivers for the local area.

As well as identifying concerns, the consultation process to date has also brought opportunities for farmers, crofters, and local communities to the fore. For example, in response to a recent consultation on the future of national parks in Scotland, the National Farming Union of Scotland (NFUS) noted that some of its members had benefited from living and farming in existing national parks and that other members could foresee opportunities from the creation of new ones.

READ MORE | Debate sparks as Scotland considers new national parks

The response points to opportunities to access grant funding for farming businesses, which would enable them to undertake activities such as whole farm plans, peatland restoration, and fencing off water margins.

It also highlights the opportunities for rural communities and landowners to diversify into agri-tourism ventures – and gives examples of farmers offering 'education opportunities for people to learn more about agriculture and biodiversity', while farm cafes and water or land-based sports activities 'could encourage other family members not directly involved in the farming business to stay in the local area'.

It goes on to say that 'from a wider perspective, year-round visitors could provide a boost to the local economy while absorbing visitors from other tourist hot spots'.

An example of the benefits that national parks can bring in their area can be seen within the Cairngorms, where the park authority has provided funding to dozens of farmers over the last two years for habitat management, goose management, dry stone wall repairs, mob grazing, capital grants and more.

READ MORE | New park proposal sparks debate over existing values

Meanwhile, through the Cairngorms 2030 Future Farming Initiative, six farms within the National Park are trialling a more regenerative model of farming, delivering practical ‘on the ground’ improvements.

The learnings will be shared with other farms across the area.

National park status will bring enormous indirect benefits to farmers and landowners through local development plans, which support key local policies such as providing affordable housing, which can help proactively guide new development and infrastructure to meet the needs of local communities whilst delivering for climate and nature.

Scotland’s national parks lead the way in showing what a more sustainable future could look like. They are key to helping Scotland tackle climate change – and farmers and crofters play a vital role in protecting and encouraging wildlife and nature to flourish in these areas, whilst making an invaluable contribution to high-quality food production.

There is no doubt that the local people, communities, and natural assets of existing and future national parks can contribute significantly to our efforts to restore nature, tackle climate change, and build more prosperous and vibrant rural economies.

And as well as unlocking new opportunities for residents, businesses, and landowners in the area – Scotland’s third National Park will also offer the chance to bring people, including farmers and crofters, together to achieve aspirational change.