Day 1 : We began our week with a morning briefing with Charlotte Wallace, Volunteering, Education and Engagement Manager at the National Park. She talked us through all the activities we would be involved in throughout the week and what aspects of our SVQ course modules the park was looking to help us achieve. We had a chance to discuss any particular course objectives that we would like to work on during our time at the park and went over all of our risk assessments for each day.
We were then introduced to Guy Keating and Kenny Auld, both Recreation and Access Advisers within the National Parks Planning Department. They drove us up to Aberfoyle where we firstly walked to the Aberfoyle Bike Park. This project was developed to create a accessible and useable public space for mountain biking of all levels in an area that would previously have been considered a waste ground by the local community. They explained the conflicts and oppositions that can sometimes slow or even stop these kinds of developments completely and really highlighted the amount of time, planning and communication with a variety of authorities that is needed to allow these kind of projects to go ahead.
We also had a look at the National Cycle Network 7 route which runs from Sunderland to Inverness. We discussed the aspects of partnership working with organisations such as Sustrans and Cycling Scotland and the shared usage of that kind of path. It provides accessibility for a wide range of users, such as bikes, buggies, dog walkers and wheelchairs and we highlighted the pros and cons of the tarmac track and who might oppose or disagree with such a proposal.
Our day ended with a visit to The Forestry Commission Lodge where we looked in more detail at Access Legislation, The Scottish Outdoor Access Code and The Land Reform Act (2003). This allowed us to understand in more detail the rights and responsibilities of land owners, authorities and members of the public.
And we finished with a walk along the more recently built ‘All Abilities’ route at the lodge. This has been specifically built following strict specifications allowing users to have access to the waterfall views avoiding the steeper route and is open to everyone.
A really interesting day finding out more about an aspect of the National Park I previously knew little about from two really great and knowledgable guys.
Day 2 : This day was organised by Craig Walker, Volunteer Advisior with the park. Tommy Lusk, one of the parks Volunteer Rangers and I set off to meet Stuart at the Callander Meadows car park in the morning to begin our cycle along NCN7 to Balquidder. Simon was attending a path skills recruitment day in Keswick in the Lakes so lucky for me, that meant I could bring my own bike along! The route, apart from crossing one road at Kilmahog, is all off road and the setting is beautiful.
We passed by the Falls of Leny and reached Strathyre taking in stunning views across Loch Lubnaig and towards the summit of Ben Ledi. The day consisted of engaging with path users offering information and advice and monitoring people numbers in key tourist locations.
A really great cycle route, highly recommended and even better in the sunshine! Rather than coming back the same way, which you can do, we carried on to Balquidder and looped back along a very minor road to return to Strathyre. A really lovely detour through some really atmospheric woodland. A big thanks to Stuart and Tommy for having me.
Day 3 : We spent Wednesday with Ali Cush, the National Parks Education and Inclusion Advisor. We discussed the main roles of the National Park as a public body, making the outdoors accessible to everyone and educating people about why it’s such an important place for wildlife, biodiversity and health.
We looked at the byelaws which will come into place next year and why antisocial behaviour and littering can create negative impacts, not just on the landscape but to communities, local businesses and beyond. We highlighted how education and outdoor learning has such positive results for not just schools, but people who feel they don’t have access to such a great and free resource. Balmaha is a really great place for a case study as it encourages such a variety of tourism. It is a real honeypot for visitors looking for an outdoor experience, be it water sports, hillwalking, West Highland Way traffic, camping or just day trippers. It also has very interesting geological history with the Highland boundary fault line running through it, so from an educational point of view, social and physical geography, travel and tourism, economics and conservation can all be highlighted.
We finished up by spending the afternoon at the visitor centre working along side seasonal rangers Sarah, Ian and Mike. We had the opportunity to engage with a variety of tourists, providing help and advice about walking routes, amenities, camping or general info about the park.
Simon and I really felt like we had the chance to focus a lot more on some of the SVQ modules relating to public engagement and promoting responsible use of the outdoors than we get to out on the hill. Talking with Ali about inclusion and education was great and I really believe that by teaching young people about understanding, respecting and protecting their free natural resource, this will result in them teaching their elders in the future. Massive thanks to all the guys for having us for the day.
Day 4 : We were based down at the maintenance unit in Alexandria with the parks maintenance team on Thursday and our plan was to head up the south side of Conic Hill to carry out some path maintenance. Matt and Stuart clearly knew that Simon and I would be experiencing withdrawals from the hills at this stage in the week, so with the sun beaming down we started from the top and worked our way down clearing the waterbars of silt and vegetation build up and opening up, clearing and deepening the ditch lines where necessary.
We also had a look at some of their fencing techniques and Matt provided a lot of interesting reading material related to both path work and BTCV fencing guides.
They were a really great team to spend the day with and so helpful for us to learn about all the work they consistently carry out across the park.
Day 5: The final day with the park took us to Callander to meet with Grahame Auty, Assistant Land Management Officer with the National Park. He talked us through the Wild Park 2020 biodiversity action plan which is looking at various projects with the objective to conserve and enhance the ecosystems and wildlife across the National Park.
We were focusing on the Black Grouse project which are a priority species within the Park. We were carrying out a land survey at The Commonty, near the Callander Crags. The project is looking at managed grazing, controlling cattle numbers and the amount of time they are left on the land. Hopefully by reducing this it will help the regeneration of plant species that will encourage black grouse back to the area. It is a five year long survey but realistically, to allow vegetation to recover and regenerate could potentially take a lot longer.
Graham taught us how to use the survey techniques and has helped us tick off a big part of our habitat management and surveying SVQ modules. Great company and a big thanks for having us.
Finally I’d just like to say a huge thanks to Charlotte Wallace for organising the whole week and making it all possible. She put so much work into the five day schedule and clearly spent a lot of time trying to relate each day back to our course modules which is so so helpful for us achieving our SVQ qualification. Thank you!