Borders national park sparks interest

Smailholm Tower, near Kelso
Smailholm Tower, near Kelso

There is an appetite in the region for creating a national park in the Borders, although some people remain to be convinced, a meeting heard.

A public meeting was held in Jedburgh Town Hall last week to find out the level of interest in the project, and 150 turned up from Coldstream to Langholm and both sides of the border.

Farmers, landowners, foresters, business representatives, Borders residents and several councillors listened to a panel discussion about the proposal to create a national park in the Borders, and they were told that the project has already landed almost £9,500 in Big Lottery Fund cash for a feasibility study.

Panel chairwoman Jane Bower, of Newcastleton, said: “We began with a simple objective – to gauge local support for a proposal that could unite the region’s diverse businesses but especially the tourism, agriculture, forestry and recreation industries behind a powerful, internationally recognised brand with the potential to transform the Scottish Borders’ economy.

“This meeting way exceeded our expectations.

“Understandably, a few people remain to be persuaded of the widespread benefits that national park status would bring, but the vast majority of participants were supportive in principle.

“We were, quite frankly, astonished and delighted to see so much interest shown in taking a bottom-up, cross-Borders and borders approach as a means to protecting and promoting the region’s outstanding natural assets and heritage, rather than the top-down rather piecemeal initiatives that have had only limited success over the years.

“The halo effect of benefits rippling far outwith national park boundaries are well understood. Research shows that for every £1 spent in a park, £10 is spent in the surrounding areas.

“In Wales, to quote a tourism business owner ‘a huge amount of the country’s lively tourism business is down to the drawing power of the parks. Because visitors often don’t know where the boundaries of the national park are, they just assume we are all in the park’.”

She believes that the proposal’s potential to benefit the region will make it a major issue in next year’s Scottish Borders Council elections.