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Keeping all-terrain vehicles on the right track in the Cairngorms National Park

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Logo: Cairngorms National Park Authority

By Will Boyd-Wallis, Head of Land Management

ATV habitat damage by Stephen Corcoran
ATV habitat damage by Stephen Corcoran

A new guide aimed at helping land managers protect hill ground from damage caused by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) has been published by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). How did this come to be?

Scottish National Parks have four aims intended to direct care for the natural and cultural heritage, manage access and recreation, sustain local communities and to ensure finite resources are managed sustainably. We have two National Parks in Scotland and they contain some of our finest landscapes and habitats. This means that we need to be extra careful to look after these areas, but it also means we have the opportunity to raise the profile of challenging and controversial issues and to try out new ideas that could then later be adopted elsewhere. The ATV leaflet we recently produced is a perfect example of both of these things.

ATVs are used extensively across the National Parks and Scotland as a whole. They are an essential tool for management of deer and accessing remote areas for moorland, deer and livestock management. The downside of ATVs is that on soft, wet ground or fragile shallow soils they can cause significant erosion, habitat damage, carbon loss and landscape impacts. So, how did we tackle this problem?

Our first port of call was the Cairngorms Uplands Advisory Group (CUAG). This group, set up by the CNPA, is made up of about 20 experienced people from a wide variety of land management sectors and rural land use interest groups.

ATV User guide cover

CUAG members discussed and agreed the ATV issue was important to tackle and decided that we needed to develop guidance on their use. They agreed to set up a small sub group of just 4 people: myself from CNPA, a head gamekeeper, a landowning rep and an outdoor access rep. The group was small because writing anything by committee is notoriously difficult. Instead the small group would draft something and go back to the wider CUAG for views/approval.

The group of 4 met a few times. We agreed a format for the leaflet, overall content and most importantly who it was aimed at. With that in mind it was agreed that the guidance needed to be very a concise, no-nonsense leaflet that would be clear and memorable in order to be of any use to people out on the hill. Filling the draft with all the ideas that came forward and whittling that down to just a few key bullet points and illustrations took a lot of time and work to get right. Once we had agreed the text we needed images and the leaflet to be professionally designed to make it as appealing as possible. We begged, borrowed and bought images and used a designer we had worked with previously who we knew could do a good job for us at a very reasonable price. After many months of emailing drafts and phone calls backwards and forwards with many partners we were ready to go to the printers.

CUAG members unanimously approved and endorsed the result and were very happy with what we intended to put out. That was never a certainty and we were always prepared to go back to the drawing board if the end result didn’t do the job it needed. Most importantly it needed to satisfy those concerned about habitat damage and appeal to those who are in the ATV driving seat.

With all the many partners on board the final check was with colleagues in CNPA, some of whom unexpectedly had cold feet. This came as a surprise but was an important lesson in project management. You can work collaboratively with partners as much as you like but if you don’t ensure those closest to you in your own organisation are alongside you, you can get tripped up. Thankfully the concerns were quickly resolved and we ended up with a better leaflet as a result. So the moral of the story is: when embarking on a challenging piece of work, if you think everyone is moving along with you, make sure they actually are! As George Bernard Shaw once said, “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place!”

The final agreed ‘ATV user guide’ is available on the CNPA website: here.

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