HL Deb 26 April 1993 vol 545 cc9-11

3.4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they support the proposal to recreate the Caledonian pine forests of Strathspey and Mar contained in the report Common Sense and Sustainability: A partnership for the Cairngorms by the Cairngorms Working Party appointed by the Government.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced on 26th March that he would be consulting publicly on the recommendations made to him by the Cairngorms Working Party. The consultation period ends on 30th June and no announcements will be made until Ministers have had the opportunity to consider the responses received during the consultation period.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for that reply. Do the Government agree that the present remaining fragments of the original forests provide important natural habitats and that the proposed regeneration would enhance the attractions and facilities of the Cairngorms area while increasing local employment in forestry?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, that is indeed so. As a consequence of sharing that view, we already support the regeneration of native pine woods by providing for higher grants under the woodland grant scheme. In that connection, we should clearly wish to pay the closest attention to the recommendations of the working party on the regeneration of the Caledonian pine forests and the creation of new forests in Strathspey and Mar.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, to what density per hectare is it considered necessary to reduce the red deer population in order to permit natural regeneration of the Caledonian pine forests? Do the Government believe that it would be practicable to reduce the red deer population to that extent?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, while I cannot give the noble Lady a precise answer in terms of the reduction, as is implicit in her question, it is quite clear that significant efforts must be made to cull, in particular, the hinds. For that reason we support fully not only the efforts of the Red Deer Commission but we support also private estates in their endeavours.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the Government pay particular attention to the recommendation in the report about the possible over-use of access roads, especially on the high ground? Can we be assured that, whenever practically possible, limitations will be placed on the use of tractor vehicles on high ground? Will the Government take on board that the excessive use of four-wheeled vehicles now being made by members of the public is causing a great deal of damage in England and Wales? Will the noble and learned Lord assure us that, if possible, that danger will be diverted from the Cairngorms?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, the report makes some interesting and important recommendations in that regard. For example, it discusses fully the concept of the long walk in to ensure that there is regulation of access. It makes also a number of observations with regard to that part of the Cairngorms which are accessible both by way of the ski road and the ski lift. All I can say at present is that there are clearly strong views on this matter and there is a conflict of interest. I hope that all those who have views will make their representations during the consultation period.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that there could be one drawback, to which I must admit; namely, that extending those forests could provide habitat for the unpopular highland midge? In those circumstances the need to encourage its natural enemies will be even more important.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I suppose that any plan to revert land to its natural state carries such a risk. However, for all kinds of reasons it is clearly desirable that the original Caledonian forests should be restored in so far as it is possible.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for raising this matter. This extremely good and far-reaching report has been well received in Scotland. It makes possible a much more structured management of the Cairngorms. The Minister said that the consultation period would conclude at the end of June. Is he aware of the suggestion in today's Glasgow Herald that an interdepartmental working party of officials only will report soon? Will that impede the possibility of the public report being able to influence the Minister? The suggestion is that the interdepartmental committee may propose privatisation. I hope that the Minister will remember the debate that we had some two weeks ago when about 20 noble Lords who took part were solidly against the idea of privatisation?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, in considering our response to the Cairngorms Working Party, we must bear in mind what is similarly offered to us by way of that internal review. However, it would be wrong for me to anticipate either at this stage.

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