BY James Stuart, convener of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

IN Scotland, we are blessed with beautiful landscapes, unique eco-systems, high levels of tourism, and strong communities; all the ingredients necessary to make the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority a world leader in conservation, land management and rural development.

Scotland’s national parks are at the forefront of managing the natural tensions between economic development, including tourism and fragile environments and landscapes.

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We already welcome more than four million visitors to the park annually. A fundamental challenge over the coming years will be striking the balance between attracting tourism, and the economic benefits it brings, with managing the associated environmental and societal impacts.

The park has already made great strides in this area through initiatives such as the introduction of camping management zones to protect fragile loch shores from degradation and reduce anti-social behaviour through Operation Ironworks with partners Police Scotland.

The recently published Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan 2018-2023 sets out the authority’s vision for the park to be a generator for growth in the Scottish economy and showcase the very best of our scenery and natural heritage.

It is a bold statement of intent, designed to tackle the biggest issues and grasp opportunities that face the park over the next five years. The focus of the plan is to deliver on actions that will make a long-lasting improvement to the area, the communities and visitors to the park.

The objectives we’ve set for the next five years are ambitious and will not be easily achieved. We are challenging ourselves to become a world leader in sustainably improving our communities and visitor opportunities.

However, we cannot do this single-handedly. We rely on maintaining positive working relationships with all our partners, including public bodies, governmental organisations, interest groups and the communities we serve.

Developing partnerships is easier said than done, and building meaningful collaboration is essential. From my experience as a major in the Army, we relied on experts in a whole variety of areas to provide input and inform our missions.

Involving specialists in the development of our strategy will help us lead the way in managing the complex interplay between conservation and economic development.

Although the recently published partnership plan, which is open for public consultation, outlines our objectives for the next half a decade, we acknowledge that some issues will take longer to resolve.

Affecting Scotland as a whole, and particularly acutely felt in our rural communities, is an ageing and declining population. In the park, we are currently losing people of working age to larger population centres, creating an imbalance and holding us back from achieving our full economic potential.

A whole range of factors have led to this decline, including a dependence on seasonal employment and a lack of access to affordable housing. Around 70 per cent of the houses sold in the park are being bought by people who currently dwell outside it. We are committed to working with partners at local and national government levels to deliver affordable homes and support communities and landowners in providing suitable housing options to retain more locals within the park.

This has knock-on effects for the performance of our tourism economy, and subsequently visitor experience. The national park is one of Scotland’s most recognisable and popular attractions, therefore providing visitors with a positive, memorable experience is fundamental to building a thriving rural economy.

The nature of national parks generally is to embody a thriving and sustainable environment for all those who visit, live and work in the park; people, flora, and fauna.

The park is used by an incredible variety of groups, for all manner of pursuits. I’ve walked, cycled, sailed, canoed, camped and driven all over the park, so I understand the value regular visitors place on having such a beautiful, accessible setting for their hobbies.

By engaging directly with groups representing outdoor interests as well as locals, we want to work cooperatively to make the park the best it can possibly be – for everyone.

The park is only as good as the sum of its parts, and the park authority is reliant on input from everyone with an interest in the park. We appreciate that we can’t be all things to all people, but we encourage residents, visitors, stakeholders and landowners to make their voice heard on this vision for our collective future for one of Scotland’s most cherished areas.

The public consultation period for the National Park Partnership Plan is open until July 3. To view the plan in full and provide feedback, please visit www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/consultations.