“Bonnie banks become war zone…” I rubbed my eyes at the headline in Saturday’s Courier.
I read it again, all the way through this time. “Bonnie banks become war zone as Marines and US Seals train.”
It accompanied a photograph of boatloads of armed soldiers, and overhead, one of those colossal three-engined helicopters with a snarl like an avalanche.
The photograph looked as if it had got lost and was looking for the foreign news pages.
I was troubled by the “bonnie banks” bit. Not THE bonnie banks?
I read on: “…live firing drills…vertical assault training in the majestic Trossachs landscape…”
Worst fears confirmed. Loch Lomond was being used for a military exercise.
Theory put to test
Scotland has two national parks. One of them is fast earning a reputation as a graveyard for eagles and now the other one is standing in for a war zone.
In situations like these, it is worth reminding ourselves of the theory of national parks in the face of some of the practice.
I consulted the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority’s own words in its own website.
The first words I encountered were these: “We do many things, and we have many aims – but at the heart of it is conservation. We’re here to protect and preserve the natural heritage of the park. It informs everything we do…”
At the website’s invitation, I clicked on its “Aims”, which included these: “To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage… To promote the sustainable use of natural resources… To promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area.”
In the section headed “Our Values” I found these: “Leadership – we show the way” and “Green – we do the right thing by the national park and the planet.”
Some fathead in Whitehall, the MOD, Westminster, or some collusion of all three thought that war games was a good use for one of Scotland’s national parks
Finally, I checked the “News” section to see if there was any mention of military activities.
There wasn’t. Instead, there was this: “Enjoyment of the outdoors in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is helping people’s mental wellbeing post-lockdown and gives them a deeper appreciation for nature.”
Where do you start? I have no doubt at all that the national park authority had no choice in the matter; that some fathead in Whitehall, the MOD, Westminster, or some collusion of all three thought that war games was a good use for one of Scotland’s national parks.
Silence and complicity
But the national park authority has a voice, a PR department, and if it also had the nerve to shriek its opposition to the four corners of the media world at such an outrage on its turf, it might have unearthed a huge surge of public support and appreciation.
At last, we could have had some confidence that when it says preserving and protecting the natural heritage of the park “informs everything we do”, they actually mean it.
Instead, there was silence, meek complicity.
It mirrors perfectly the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s feeble response to the outrageous toll of its eagles and other birds of prey.
Imagine the terrifying impact of a live-firing and vertical assault exercise on every bird and beast within sight and earshot.
You can warn the humans and try and keep them well away. You can’t warn the wildlife.
What part of such an exercise can ever be justified within the scope of the ideal that “we do the right thing by the national park and the planet”?
Who is measuring the impact of the exercise on Loch Lomond, the pollution of air and water, the impact on the physical environment? The contamination?
And what about the contribution made by the sheer volume of noise to those people who are being urged to seek out nature’s company by both the Scottish and British Governments and for that matter by the national park, because it is good for their mental health?
Our national parks are lamentable failures. They fail in their stated aims and values and they fail in their duty to take a stand on behalf of nature
How good is a war zone in general, even a temporary dress rehearsal in which no-one dies, for the mental health of those whose path it crosses?
Our national parks as presently constituted are lamentable failures. They fail in their stated aims and values, and they fail in their duty to take a stand on behalf of nature whenever it is compromised by internal and external sources.
The drastic overhaul of every aspect of our national parks is long, long overdue, and it begins with the need to take them into national ownership, with the insistence that they set an example that other landowners should follow and that the wellbeing of the natural heritage should truly be at the centre of everything they do.
We are light years away from achieving such ideals.
There has been an outcry at the impact of dirty campers and day trippers all across the countryside during and since lockdown, even as we extolled the worth of time in nature’s company for our troubled mental health.
In that context alone, who thought that a military exercise in a national park was a good example to set?
“Bonnie banks become war zone…” I rubbed my eyes. My mental health went through the roof.