The Cairngorms National Park is well known as a place to go for enjoyment of the outdoors. It is not difficult to see why – the area has:
- fantastic scenery and wildlife that are different to that found elsewhere in Scotland or the UK.
- a variety of different landscapes eg woods, moorlands, mountain tops, lochs, rivers providing a setting for many different activities.
- lots of facilities that make it easy for people to enjoy themselves – ski lifts, paths, businesses that hire equipment, etc.
- many training centres and centres of excellence e.g. Glenmore Lodge, the national centre for mountain training, and organised outdoor events e.g. orienteering, mountain bike races, and charity events
- good transport links to centres of population and lots of good accommodation options.
The use of the area for fun and leisure is not a particularly new phenomenon. In the Victorian period, parts of the area became popular with sightseers. In the 19th Century a path was built round Loch an Eilein on Rothiemurchus Estate for scenic carriage rides.
We know what people do when they come because of visitor surveys that are undertaken periodically. The first Park-wide survey, published in 2005, found that 56% of people indicated that they would undertake some general sightseeing, while 48% of people said they would undertake some form of walking. Around 20% of total visitors said they would be doing some form of active outdoor pursuit such as skiing, climbing or mountain biking. A second Park-wide survey is being undertaken in 2009-2010.
Very few of the people who come to the Park for outdoor recreation set out to deliberately cause problems. And, although most of the land in the Park is privately owned (and used for forestry, farming or field sports), most land managers are happy to see people enjoying themselves in the area. Never-the-less there are a number of issues with outdoor recreation that need to be managed so that people can enjoy themselves or do what they need to do without causing problems for others. The main types of issues are:
- Path erosion– especially on the high ground where this can be unsightly and can cause damage to sensitive plants.
- Conflicts between different types of recreational users – e.g. mountain bikers and walkers.
- Disturbance to wildlife (for example, by people with dogs not under proper control) or to land management activities (e.g. deer stalking).
- Blockages to paths by fences or gates that make it difficult for people to pass.
The Park Authority published an Outdoor Access Strategy in 2005 which sets out how it proposes to address some of these issues.