Opposition is mounting to a plan to designate the whole of Lochaber as a National Park with thousands citing concerns about job losses, over-tourism and rising house prices.

The Scottish Government intends to create at least one more park by 2026, following the Cairngorms' designation in 2003 and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs the previous year.

Scottish Greens rural affairs spokesperson Ariane Burgess MSP said the new park would be a "game changer" for the area chosen, given the climate emergency.

A campaign group, opposing plans to give Lochaber the designation, has been backed by more than 6000 online supporters.

 "A common theme is that people are upset by the process," says Deborah Carmichael, who set up the group Lochaber National Park, NO more.

 "Many didn't know anything about it until I set up the group.

"It has gone under the radar, this small group of people - self-elected - who are pushing the idea of the whole of Lochaber being a National Park.

"National Parks work because they are small, condensed areas of outstanding natural beauty. They are not in towns and in working, living communities or farmlands.

"You need to take the two and keep them separate, otherwise it's bound for failure."

She said a survey, distributed to garner support for the plan, could be filled in multiple times by those in favour of it.

The Herald: John Carmichael, Debbie Carmichael, Maria Morrison and Ian MacKinnon are not in favour of Lochaber being designated a new National Park John Carmichael, Debbie Carmichael, Maria Morrison and Ian MacKinnon are not in favour of Lochaber being designated a new National Park (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

John Carmichael who runs a bed and breakfast said the licensing scheme had led to some places closing, which meant the area would not have sufficient accommodation for a huge influx of tourists. 

He added: "Would you invite someone to stay with you if your house was a bùrach (Gaelic for mess).

"We haven't got the hospital, we haven't got the policing, we haven't got the roads. The minute the National Park goes ahead, the new hospital that is planned is not going to be enough."

"It's poor legislation to solve a problem that it's not going to solve," said fisherman Ian MacKinnon.

"The National Park was a political decision that was made as part of the Bute House aggreement.

"They make out that it is going to solve the climate crisis. The only crisis it solved was the fact that the SNP was one seat short of a parliamentary crisis and they are willing to sell any part of the country down the line in order to fulfil an agreement that they made without consulting local people.

The Herald: Seven areas have been shortlisted for the National Parks designationSeven areas have been shortlisted for the National Parks designation (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

"It's also going to take in part of the sea, out to the small isles and the people proposing this have not consulted with the fishing industry, the fish farming industry or the marine leisure industry."

He said the budgets in place for existing parks were insufficient to solve the problem of irresponsible tourism including littering.

Maria Morrison's husband and son are stalkers on a local estate and she says the designation could leave them both out of a job.

"National Parks don't like stalkers and they don't like deer," she said.

"They blame deer for the state that the hills are in but that's not true. It's the lack of sheep and the lack of cows and the lack of grazing that's there.

"They don't like crofters, they don't like farmers and they most certainly don't like stalkers. They want two deer per square acre which is not going to work and means that my husband and all his people will be out of a job. 

"My son is 25 and he's going through his stalking exams this year. Where does that leave him?"

She said there was also a concern that the park would push house prices in the area further and lead to a rise in irresponsible tourism.

Highland councillor Angus MacDonald criticised plans for the park when "the Corran need a new ferry and Fort William a new hospital".

Cllr MacDonald, who is contesting the Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat for the Lib Dems at next year’s expected general election, estimates the new park will cost the taxpayer £13 million a year, based on the previous designations.

The Herald: 'I am not convinced that the public wants this' 'I am not convinced that the public wants this' (Image: Angus MacDonald)

He said: "The Scottish Government should direct taxpayers' money to what the Highlands really needs," said Cllr MacDonald, who built a cinema and bookstore on Fort William high street that has been redited for revitalising the town centre.

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"Dunvegan needs a new primary school, the Corran a new ferry and Fort Williama new Hospital.

"If you did a poll of the people of the West Highlands and asked how they would spend £130m - whether for a National Park or new hospital, school or improved roads, I suspect well over 95% would opt for the infrastructure project.

"At a time when Government finances are really tight, is this a good use of public money? Is there a burning demand from the local communities for a National Park and will it resolve the major issues? I have my doubts."

He said National Park representatives had "worked hard to inform the public" in the West Highlands but claimed less than 10% of locals had engaged in the process.

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He said: "One questionnaire really irritated me with presumptive questions like "Would you like less littering?" presumably with the aim of having headlines like "99% of respondents agree there should be less littering"  to support the argument.

"We have over tourism in the summer, no bed spaces, roads clogged and cafés full.

"It sometimes takes an age to get into Portree, Fort William or Plockton and single track roads are a nightmare, especially around iconic visitor attractions.

"The last thing we need is more visitors in the peak season."

He said a significant role of Cairngorm National Park rangers was "carrying out the green agenda" of peat restoration, native woodland planting and improving biodiversity.

"It follows every politically correct ambition of a major Scottish Government department, presumably at a significant cost," said Cllr MacDonald.

The deadline for nominations for a new National Park is February 29. They will then be appraised before a detailed investigation is carried out by NatureScot.

Based on the outcome of that process, legislation will be brought forward to make at least one area in Scotland a national park by 2026.

"I am not convinced we need any new National Parks in Scotland," said Cllr MacDonald.

"[It's] a huge expense with accompanying bureaucracy.

"My understanding is that the Green Party made it a condition of their coalition with the SNP that another National Park would be created; just another of the Greens’ disasters-in waiting, dreamt up in the Central Belt."

The Scottish Government has stated a commitment to designating at least one new National Park in Scotland by 2026, with the deadline for nominations set for February 29 2024.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s National Parks are home to internationally renowned landscapes and nature and they provide outstanding opportunities for recreation and local communities. They support a thriving local economy, create jobs and opportunities for local businesses and attract investment.  They also play a crucial role in tackling climate change and protecting our precious natural environment for future generations. 

“Anyone can submit proposals to become a new National Park with local support an important factor to consider.  It is really positive that communities across the country have been coming together to discuss the opportunities in their area associated with National Park designation.  This includes opportunities for nature restoration, tackling climate change, protecting cultural heritage, visitor management and local economic development.  We look forward to seeing the full range of ideas from all across the country.”