In August 2018, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler wrote to the Scottish Tourism Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, encouraging the Scottish Ministers to designate the Isle of Skye as a Scottish National Park on the basis of the “significant overcrowding” of tourists on Skye she had experienced while visiting during the summer. Stihler was echoing the growing concern that large numbers of tourists’ enthusiasm to see Skye’s natural beauty may damage the Isle’s habitats.

Disregarding the debate over the justification of Stihler’s concerns (which have faced significant opposition), this blog will revisit the law of the National Park in Scotland, first laid out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 (‘the 2000 Act’).

The 2000 Act’s primary function was to provide the then new Scottish Executive with the power to set up Non-Departmental Public Bodies (‘NDPBs’) in the form of National Park Authorities, to carry out the National Park Aims set out in section 1 of the 2000 Act.

While these define the powers of the NDPBs under section 9, the Aims are broadly worded and refer to:-

  • conserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of an area;
  • promoting sustainable use of natural resources;
  • promoting understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of an area; and
  • promoting sustainable economic and social development of communities.

Once an NDPB has been established under the 2000 Act, its powers are largely defined by sections 9 – 15 of the 2000 Act. One notable provision here is section 11, requiring the National Park to submit a National Park Plan to the Scottish Ministers setting out their policies to achieve the National Park Aims. However, the abilities of National Park Authorities are largely set aside to Schedule 2 of the 2000 Act, containing the Authority’s ability to create secondary legislation – for example, for the purposes of regulating vehicle use and fire-lighting, and the compulsory purchase powers in Paragraph 5 that have been the subject of much litigation.

The 2000 Act remains the authority on National Parks in Scotland. In 2008, the 2000 Act was subject to a Scottish Government consultation which presented that the legislation was working well, subject to a reduction in the size of National Park Authority boards.

As a result of the 2000 Act, two National Parks and National Park Authorities have been established, namely Loch Lomond & the Trossachs in 2002 and Cairngorms in 2003. In spite of challenges to Authorities exercising their Compulsory Purchase powers, the National Parks have been uncontroversial to date, and the five year plans of both Authorities do not implement radical policies to achieve the National Park Aims. It is worth remembering that under Para. 9 of Sch. 2 of the 2000 Act, National Park Authorities are required to take into account the views of local authorities and community councils, as well as people who represent those who live, work, run businesses and enjoy recreational activities in the National Park. This is a good way of ensuring that a project designed with natural heritage in mind remains uncontroversial.