DISCUSSIONS on establishing Scotland’s third national park in Galloway Forest have kicked-off at Holyrood — but the Scottish Government says it will not support the scheme.
South Scotland MSP Emma Harper successfully raised a motion last week to debate the idea, which has been led by the Galloway National Park Association (GNPA).
Since founding in 2016, the group has picked-up cross-party support from the region’s politicians and the wider community.
The new motion states that the assignment of national park status in the area could “bring positive benefits to mental and physical health, conservation, the environment, the economy and future sustainability”.
And supporters argue that if granted, the park’s creation would help meet land conservation targets set out by Boris Johnson last year.
Ms Harper said: “I’m pleased to have successfully raised the motion for a debate on the potential for a Galloway National Park in the Scottish Parliament.
“The Galloway National Park Association have undertaken a huge amount of work and I’m glad to have provided them with a parliamentary platform which enabled my political colleagues to weigh up the pros and cons a park could offer our wonderful South Scotland region.”
However, during the debate the Scottish Government’s rural affairs minister Ben McPherson told the chamber the executive wouldn’t back the designation of anymore national parks in Scotland.
A swift rebuttal from fellow South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth, a passionate supporter of the proposals, highlighted there is “no stronger case” for a new Scottish national park than the one put forward by the association’s members.
He said: “It has previously highlighted that park status could add between 250,000 and 500,000 new visits each year to Galloway and South Ayrshire, which would be worth between £30 million and £60 million in additional spend, thereby helping to create and support between 700 and 1,400 additional jobs.
“Even before the current pandemic, the weaknesses and challenges of the local economy in one of the most peripheral parts of Scotland were there for all to see, so the economic boost that a Galloway national park could bring was needed. That need is now more important than ever.”
After the debate, he added: “The decision by the SNP to snub new national parks is a missed opportunity to help build back better. We know National Park status would promote investment, increase tourism and create post-Covid recovery in areas such as Galloway.”
Mr Smyth said that, where the Government is concerned, Dumfries and Galloway is the “the forgotten region of Scotland”.
Furthermore, Galloway’s MSP Finlay Carson urged Mr McPherson and the Government to reconsider their decision.
The Scottish shadow rural affairs minister called for a feasibility study and full consultation on the matter — and highlighted the creation of five new national parks across 10 million acres in Chile.
He said: “If a developing nation such as Chile can designate more national parks surely Scotland can.
“Scotland’s existing National Parks currently lead the way in tackling the climate emergency and nature crisis, promoting mental and physical health and well-being, boosting rural employment while celebrating our world-class landscapes.”
Following last Thursday’s debate, Galloway National Park Association pledged to “redouble the fight”.
The association’s chairman Rob Lucas said: “The outcome represents a missed opportunity not just for Galloway but the whole of Scotland, especially as Glasgow is soon to host the COP26 climate change conference.
“It is disappointing that Ben Macpherson failed to respond to the wishes and needs of our region and our country both to protect nature and to nurture a sustainable economy.
“However,” he added, “our campaign really begins now.”