The Cairngorms National Park, located in the Scottish Highlands, is the largest national park in the UK. It covers an impressive 4,500sq km, making it bigger than Yosemite in California. It is also home to 25 per cent of the UK's rare and endangered species and 18,000 residents.
We spoke with Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority to discuss the National Park's peatland programme, the importance of collaboration and how we can all do our bit to help achieve Scotland's net zero goals.
Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority
What are your aims for Cairngorms National Park?
In 2000, the Scottish Parliament set out four statutory aims for the country's national parks, which we continue to follow. These are:
- Conserve and enhance national culture and heritage
- Promote sustainable use of the natural resources
- Promote understanding and enjoyment of the area by the public
- Promote the sustainable, economic and social development of the Parks communities
The Cairngorms is an incredibly important place not only for nature but also for the 18,000 people who call the park home. We also have around two million annual visitors, so it is quite a challenge to ensure that the National Park not only continues to achieve its goals from a nature and recreation point of view, but also its commitments to those living in and visiting the area. It's a very fine balance.
Tell us more about your partnership with Palladium
Palladium is a global impact firm that works with governments, businesses and investors to help solve the world's most pressing challenges. Our collaboration, as part of the UK National Parks Partnership, began in 2021 and is focused on how the Cairngorms and 14 other UK national parks can secure private sector funding to support crucial regeneration projects.
Currently we are working with Palladium on a trial peatland project, looking into how we can use private finance to support ecosystem restoration, mitigate climate change, deliver for landowners and, crucially, benefit local communities too. In order to achieve Scotland's ambitious peatland restoration targets over the next 25 years we will need significant investment in restoration work, which is why we need to look at innovative ways to draw in private funding alongside ongoing public sector support. We also need to be very clear that the approach we take follows a clear ethical charter and that we are not 'green washing', something we heard loud and clear in our recent Partnership Plan consultation.
Tell us about the National Park's wider peatland work
Peatlands are vital to the environment. When in good condition they store a huge amount of carbon, are home to a variety of specialist plants and animals, and also help to provide clean drinking water. Over 25 per cent of the Cairngorms National Park is made up of peatlands or blanket bogs, and around 80 per cent of these are damaged which means, sadly, that they are emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In total, degraded peatland accounts for around 10% of Scotland's total carbon emissions; however, by restoring just one hectare of actively eroding peat we can save up to 19 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, so the potential impact of this work is enormous.
The partnership with Palladium is a small part of the overall peatland restoration work we are undertaking in the National Park through government funding. This comprises two main activities. The first is to improve peatland that has been drained, ensuring that drains are blocked and that the peat is re-wetted to repair cracks and damage. The second is to help restore degraded peatland. Both of these activities work by re-wetting and re-vegetating, which will over time help the land stop emitting carbon.
Between 2014 and 2022 approximately 2,892 hectares of damaged peatlands has been placed under restoration management in the National Park. This will lead to significant emissions reductions and we have recently adopted a new target of having 38,000ha of peatland under restoration management by 2045.
Tell us about wider work to reduce emissions in the National Park
There is a significant amount of work going on across the National Park to reduce emissions including looking at transport, housing, woodland expansion etc. This is articulated in the new Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan, which was published at the end of August.
Some of this work will be delivered as part of our Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 programme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Inspired by the Gaelic word Dùthchas - meaning the deep-rooted connection between people and nature - the programme is putting the power to tackle the climate and nature crises in the hands of people who live, visit and work in the Cairngorms. In 2021, we received £12.5m of lottery funding to take forward the programme, including a specific project on Green Finance and 23 other climate and nature focused projects alongside over 45 partners such as NHS Highland, Well-Being Economy Alliance and Deer Management Groups.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority has committed to reaching net zero by 2025. What are you doing to achieve this and how close are you to hitting this goal?
In 2007 - our original baseline - the Park Authority emitted 150 tonnes of carbon (or carbon equivalent) per annum. By 2020/2021 we had reduced this to 53 tonnes, which reflects a huge amount of work across the whole organisation. Our next step is to get this down to zero, which is going to require everyone who works for the Park Authority to do their bit. We are currently working on our new corporate plan which will set out further measures on this in the near future.
However, the much bigger issue for us to work towards is reaching net zero for the whole National Park. This autumn we will publish a carbon audit for the National Park as a whole, which will show how close we are to achieving net zero and what we need to do to ensure we get there as quickly as possible. As part of our new Partnership Plan we have committed to establishing a date for the National Park to be net zero and carbon negative by 2023.
Tell us about the projects you were working on in the run up to COP26
COP26 was an excellent platform to highlight the incredible work that the team has been doing in the Cairngorms, particularly on nature recovery, climate and nature-based solutions. Hosting the event in Glasgow further raised the profile of this work and showed the world how Scotland is taking action to help tackle climate change.
It was an excellent opportunity to talk to a number of likeminded individuals, listen to experts and learn more and be inspired by the brilliant work taking place across the world. We collaborated with colleagues across Scottish Government's Environment and Economy Leaders' Group, giving us a chance to showcase our collective efforts to tackle the nature and climate crises.
Following COP26, there is also the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), which takes place in China in October 2022. Both biodiversity and climate issues are typically interlinked, and national parks are the perfect place to showcase how ecosystem restoration and reducing carbon emissions go hand in hand.
How important is it to share knowledge and expertise to help achieve the government's net zero goals?
We are all in this boat together so it is vital that we work together and share our knowledge so that we can collectively achieve those goals.
I personally think that events are a fantastic forum to talk about the issues we all face and to share solutions and our expertise. During COP26, Deb Haaland, Secretary of State for the Interior in the USA, visited the Cairngorms National Park for a tour. In her role, the Secretary of State is in charge of looking after all of the US Parks, which is an incredible responsibility.
During her visit, we discussed what the US and Scotland are doing to mitigate climate change and the opportunities for national parks across the globe to work together. There is great work that can be done across the national parks and events like COP26 showcase the power of cross-border collaboration.
How can we support the park with its long-term goals that people and nature thrive together for future generations?
We can all do our bit to help address the climate and nature crises. Scottish Government have created a dedicated campaign - Let's Do Net Zero - which contains lots of useful hints and tips for individuals and businesses to make a real difference, from home energy to the food we eat and the way we get around. Count Us In is also a great resource (developed in partnership with the UN Environment Programme and Project Drawdown) which sets out 16 steps which everyone can take to meaningfully reduce your carbon emissions.
In terms of the Cairngorms National Park specifically, we know that private transport is a substantial contributor to our carbon emissions. At present, over 90% of journeys to and within the National Park are by private car, hire car or motorhome, and the vast majority of these vehicles are powered by fossil fuels. Within our new Partnership Plan, we have committed to at least 20% of journeys by visitors, commuters and residents taking place by alternative means by 2030, and we are taking forward a range of practical measures as part of our Heritage Horizons programme. However, to achieve this target we will ultimately need visitors and residents alike to consider and adopt alternative methods of getting around.
To find out more about the Cairngorms National Park visit - https://cairngorms.co.uk/