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The Campaign recently received notice of the following proposed event in the high Cairngorms and responded in the letter below explaining its opposition. The Campaign is also approaching the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Scottish Natural Heritage to develop and adopt clear policies on such events in the high Cairngorms.

Claire Greenwood,

Aid International UK.

Dear Claire Greenwood,

Thursday 3 February 2005

Proposed Sponsored Challenge Hike in the High Cairngorms

Your email describing the above proposed event has been passed to me as the convenor of the Cairngorms Campaign for response. The Cairngorms Campaign (CC) is a voluntary organisation founded to protect the Cairngorms and their outstanding qualities.

The work of organisations like yours providing funds for international aid is clearly important, as events in southeast Asia have starkly demonstrated, and of a kind that everyone would want to support. The preparations you make in briefing participants and overseeing the event with local guides also demonstrate the care with which you plan such events. It is with reluctance therefore that I have to say that we would firmly oppose the use of the High Cairngorms for such an event. Given the nature of your work, the Campaign's committee feel we owe you the courtesy of justifying our stance and explaining it to your organisation.

The High Cairngorms, especially the extensive high plateaux, are of very high value for wildlife and for "wilderness" experience. As stated in the booklet "The Future of the Cairngorms" "Here is the most important area for mountain wildlife in the British Isles, and the most important for arctic-like wildlife in the EEC countries."

Unfortunately, it is also an area that is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of human use, for several reasons. One is that the rock is granitic and the soils derived from it thin and infertile. This in itself limits the growth of plants that hold the whole system in place. The area is also at a high altitude and the resultant climate worsens this situation as, at these altitudes, the growing season is short and there are many freeze-thaw cycles. Also, the high wind speeds at these altitudes not only discourage plant growth, but also cause wind erosion as small granitic particles are blown at speed over considerable distances.

Human feet damage such soils and vegetation by trampling and expose the soils to wind and water erosion, while the slow regrowth of plants under these conditions to heal the damage takes many years. As an example, damage to vegetation near footpaths can be measured 50 metres away from the main route, partly because the open terrain of the plateaux permits walkers to walk freely away from main pathlines, and partly due to the impact of wind eroded particles blown from the exposed soils on the main pathline.

In recent years, numbers of people using the main Cairngorm/Macdhui plateau decreased significantly when the chairlift bringing people to near the top of Cairn Gorm closed.

A condition was placed on millions of pounds of European aid for the building of the funicular railway that replaced it, that no passengers were allowed to go from the top station of the funicular on foot to the summit of Cairn Gorm. Some of the damage caused by the higher levels of visitor to the High Cairngorms may now, very slowly, heal. Against that there has been an increased participation in hillwalking in recent decades and more people are now found in these remote areas. Also, increased windspeeds and reduced protective snow cover associated with climate change are almost certainly increasing the vulnerability of the area.

It is worth mentioning also that one of the most important uses of the area is for research that detects and measures important trends such as impacts of acid rain and trends in climate change. This use depends partly on the lack of human impacts that could obscure the changes being studied in natural processes.

From the recreational point of view, what matters to the Cairngorms Campaign is the quality of the experience of visitors to these remote areas and that centres around the issue of the balance of access. Visitors' experience is based on the sense of remoteness, challenge and solitude wild country can offer. Too few people, and the benefits are not extended to enough people. Too many people and the essential elements of that experience are degraded.

The area is thus only suited to recreational use of very limited numbers of people at any one time. This is not a conclusion arising from any sense of elitism. It is a result of this constraint and of the high vulnerability of the area to human impact.

For these reasons, the Cairngorms Campaign, and indeed other organisations aiming to conserve the Cairngorms, have long opposed their use for organised events of the kind you describe. Even by your own description, several hundred people would have to use the area for this event alone. Also, we have found that, inevitably, you have to publicise your event well to make it a success, and we have found that this publicity has a knock-on effect in encouraging others to use the area.

I regret that we could not be more supportive of your efforts and do hope that you can find a more suitable area in which to stage your event.

I am sending a copy of this note to some other organisations who have discussed it with me.

Yours sincerely,

R Drennan Watson (Convenor)

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