Shaping the future of Cairngorms National Park with community engagement
By Charlotte Cooper | Tue, Jul 4, 2023
6 min read
How has Cairngorms National Park Authority engaged the local community in protecting and improving areas of the park? Read on to find out about their community engagement strategy.
Sprawling across over 4,500km, Cairngorms National Park is not only a thriving bed of natural beauty, unique wildlife and landscapes but is also the largest national park in the UK! The Cairngorms National Park Authority recently sought out the views of those who live, visit and work in the National Park as local insight is crucial for the development and protection of the area. Part of this has taken the form of two engagement websites: one to inform the development of the new Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan, and the second to help shape their new £12.5m National Lottery Heritage Fund project Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030. Each website was designed to gather as many views from local people as possible and to showcase how their voices and opinions have shaped plans for the National Park going forward.
Key Impacts for Cairngorms Park Authority
- Over 18,000 visitors and 2,600 contributions (1,000+ separate respondents) to the Cairngorms Views engagement website
- A total of 1,453 individual responses to the consultation, nearly five times the engagement of the previous Park Plan consultation in 2017
- A National Park Partnership Plan created with proven insight from the local community (launched by Lorna Slater MSP, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, in August 2022)
- Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 site has already gathered over 1500 contributions to improve active travel routes around the National Park
- Continuing to deliver on points raised by the Cairngorms Views consultation.
Let’s take a look at both websites and see how the Park Authority’s engagement strategy has helped to create a community-lead Park Plan and shaped the future of active travel in the area.
Cairngorms Views engagement
Gathering Community Views
The Cairngorms Views Commonplace (now completed) was launched in June 2021 with the goal of gathering community views to shape their newest National Park Partnership Plan, a process that takes place every five years and guides the activities of all public bodies working in the Cairngorms.
As the UK’s largest national park, covering 6% of Scotland’s land mass and being home to over 18,000 people, the Park Authority wanted an engagement that could reach as many people that live, work and visit the area as possible. Everything from the impact of the pandemic to Scotland's climate change commitments to new housing projects will have a great impact on the area over the next five years. The Park Authority see gathering the views of the local population (as well as visitors to the area) on these matters as vital so they can not only establish what matters most to key stakeholders in the area but also understand how changes to the National Park could improve their quality of life.
The first thing the Park Authority sought to do was widen its engagement strategy as, in the previous 2017-2022 Partnership Plan, they engaged just over 300 people. While not a small amount, they found that a number of specific stakeholder groups had been underrepresented. The goal of the 2022 consultation was to use a hybrid approach to engagement - digital and in-person - to reach more people who would not normally contribute. Thanks to this strategy, they received over 2,600 responses in this engagement project, a large majority through the Commonplace website, which helped to create a Partnership Plan with a real sense of community cohesion and support.
Let’s explore how this happened.
Engagement website and heatmap
The first step in engagement is local awareness. Cairngorms launched the engagement with an informal online consultation to get the website noticed and stir a conversation with the community. This was then followed by the launch of an interactive Heatmap where respondents could drop a pin on an exact location and answer preset questions about their views on that area. These questions were drafted by Commonplace and the Park Authority to ensure that they would receive relevant answers that could be incorporated into the new draft plan.
Once the draft plan was created from this feedback, the formal consultation period began. Separate proposals were created for each theme of the plan (Nature, People and Place). The community could easily leave feedback on any or all of these themes, and this feedback was used to inform the next stage.
“The Heatmap was a brilliant way of getting people to tell us what they thought with as broad a brush as possible… I think being able to put a pin in the map and just write what you thought broke down a communication barrier for a lot of people.” - Olly Davies, Head of Communications at the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
Commonplace’s built-in News Feed was also frequently used to spotlight the specifics of each theme (i.e local communities, net-zero goals, local businesses) as well as to share views that people were agreeing with. The News Feed gathered over 800 subscribers - nearly three times the total response to the previous consultation. It also resulted in people providing multiple comments and helped to drive yet more people to become involved.
A blended community engagement approach
Due to the rural nature of the Cairngorms, a blended approach of offline and online engagement was the best way to keep as much of the community informed as possible. Although the pandemic made the digital sphere quite prominent, it did not stop physical engagement strategies from being utilised throughout the consultation. A mailing was organised for every household in the National Park area to spread awareness alongside the Commonplace, with a QR code designed to help advertise the consultation locally. This was on top of the online channels such as the previously mentioned News Feed, email and their ongoing social media presence which shared the specifics of what the community wanted from the plan.
An infographic summarising feedback the Park Authority received during the formal phase of the consultation and what changes were made as a result.
Creating the plan
Thanks to the community input from this project, the Park Plan was launched in August 2022.
That same month, the Park Authority organised another mailing to all the households in the National Park which covered the main views gathered by the consultation and how they helped shape the final plan. This “closing the loop” - telling the community how they had helped shape the future plan and how they would be kept informed in future - was something the community had asked for. Feedback from the previous plan showed that many people felt as if they were only being asked to contribute every five years and that they couldn’t see how they had had any impact.
Cairngorms 2030: Meeting the climate challenge
In July 2021 the Cairngorms National Park Authority was successful in receiving up to £12.5m of funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030, a groundbreaking project that is empowering people who live, visit and work in the Cairngorms to tackle the climate and nature crises. Across 24 long-term projects, Heritage Horizons will bring about transformational change in the Cairngorms, benefitting people’s health and well-being, delivering on climate change and enhancing nature across the National Park.
One of the main goals of the programme is to encourage people out of their cars by improving public transport and maintaining the paths for cycling, walking and wheelchair users within the National Park. To do this, another Commonplace project site has been launched to gather the views of the community and understand people’s current experiences of active travel around the National Park.
“The idea of the project is to put the power to tackle the nature and climate crisis in the hands of the people who live, visit and work in the National Park.” - Olly Davies, Head of Communications at the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
Power in the people
One way the Park Authority is putting this project in the hands of local people is by giving them the right information. This involves using the correct terminology and making sure that the project website is understandable and not bogged down with hard-to-understand information or terms. It’s also made clear how to tackle it on a practical front as a community member.
This project will also deliver on some of the issues raised by the Cairngorms Views project website, helping to showcase the ongoing work of the Park Authority alongside local people.
Utilising the Commonplace website, citizens can leave their views in four different ways:
Heatmap: Once again, the Park Authority is utilising a community Heatmap so people can drop a pin and explain their experience of walking, cycling and using a wheelchair in the National Park and explain how they believe these routes could be made more accessible.
Active Travel Survey: Data collected from these two ten-minute surveys will be used to determine what the priorities are for active travel in the National Park and what can be done about any existing issues.
E-Bike Survey: Part of the programme is to create a network of e-bikes that residents and visitors can use for everyday journeys. To create the best plan, this survey focuses on asking how people would use e-bikes should they become available as well as their existing thoughts or gripes about them.
Drop-in sessions: A hybrid engagement strategy is also playing a sizeable role here, with multiple drop-in sessions scheduled where members of the community can visit the team and discuss their active travel needs. Some are open to everyone while some were created to gather info from certain demographics. For example, in August 2022, there was a drop-in session specifically for audiences with a disability or over 65. Recent drop in sessions have included: tackling ways of getting around without a car; making Aviemore cycling and wheeling friendly and climate emergency workshops.
The past year has seen the website expand to cover other areas of the project, including specific consultations on health and wellbeing and special landscape qualities. Another goal is to harness the power of nature in the National Park to have a positive impact on people’s health. Structural changes and improvements could also lead to a cultural change around the project being able to demonstrate the value of nature as a genuine intervention within the public health space.
This will include:
- Working with local businesses to create an economic model based on well-being, not GDP
- Developing an NHS green health referral programme
- Creating a unique outdoor Dementia Activity Resource Centre
- Encouraging people to walk and cycle more in the National Park
Make sure to keep up with Cairngorms Park Authority’s progress here!
Or, if you've been inspired by their work for your own community engagement, make sure to book a free chat with our team using the link below.
Links and resources: