The Cairngorms are an internationally renowned landscape with significance both as a tourist destination and as an ecologically significant environment. Since 2003 balancing the needs of conservation and economic development has been the responsibility of the Cairngorm National Park Authority. Unusually for a national park both of these drives are part of the CNPAs founding articles. It is in this context of governmental tension that the CNPA is now facing the reality of climate change.
Perhaps the most significant areas of the CNPA are the high mountain tops where Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting live on barren wind scoured granite regolith with rare lichens and mosses in a sub-arctic environment several thousands of miles south of the arctic circle. How will these areas be effected by climate change? That will depend on their sensitivity and on how much the average climate alters. Has any change beyond natural variation been observed, what do the climate models predict? Are there insights from ecology globally that can help us to understand how projected change will impact the Cairngorms? These first questions are about what we can expect.
The next set of questions are about action rather than observation and prediction. Given our understanding of climate change (limited as it may be) what role is there for the CNPA? As an organisation at least partly founded to protect the Cairngorms, mitigating it's own impact on the national park must be part of a rational institutional response. But as a relatively small organisation such a role is inevitably limited in it's scale. Should the CNPA actively educate and engage on the thereat of climate change, and if so with who? The parks visitors? The local community? Government? And if climate change is to some degree at least inevitable then what role is to be had in addressing adaptation opportunities?
There are at least partial answers to most of these questions. It is the aim of this project to gather these answers together and to make them more generally accessible. The degree of climate change and it's impact. The Met Office have archives for past weather. Data for past climates on different spatial and temporal timescales is also available. The UK's Hadley Centre has some of the most advanced climate models in the world. These models are freely available. Numerous scientists have done work on applying these coarse grained models to specific areas so we can start to ask about likely impacts on parts of the National Park. Extreme weather can sometimes show up ecosystem sensitivity to a given stress . Some behaviour change is seen in British flora and the survival of certain species of plant have changed in a manner consistent with climate change. Evidence from close to home is further augmented by much research in similar ecosystems around the world.
The role of the CNPA.
The Cairngorm National Park Authority is first and foremost bound by it's founding charter to:
- To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
- To promote sustainable use natural resources of the area.
- To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public.
- To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area's communities
Given this the park's role on the issue of climate change must be based on the fact that climate change threatens the natural heritage of the area, it must include promotion of sustainable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, it must include an element of education aimed at the visiting public.
There are also circulars from DEFRA, other government departments and Committee on Climate Change that have a bearing on all public bodies. Beyond this, there is the matter of best practice in the sector i.e how are British national parks and conservation organisations engaging with climate change.