TALK to people about memories they’ve made in Scotland and many of them will take you back to precious moments spent in our national parks at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms.

Having spent time in both making some of those memories, it’s no surprise that they see six million visitors every year.

Wandering among the rolling hills, imposing mountains and beautiful lochs, you don’t have to go far to spot a wealth of plant and animal life. And with the reintroduction of beavers and the recent end to the mountain hare culls, they’re only getting richer.

They’re two of our greatest assets, delivering globally recognised landscape and biodiversity, but it was only 20 years ago that they became national parks. It was an early act of the newly founded Scottish Parliament that recognised the importance of preserving and restoring these iconic locations.

Over the following 20 years, we set about building a living legacy for generations to come.

That’s a proud legacy my Scottish Green colleagues and I see value in, and it’s one we want to expand and share with more areas across Scotland. That’s why back in 2021 we signed an agreement with the Scottish Government that pledged to create at least one new national park by 2026.

This week we took another huge step towards making that a reality when the Scottish Green biodiversity minister, Lorna Slater, announced that nominations for where the new park would be were officially open.

READ MORE: SNP conference can mark a change in direction for our party

But such was the interest and enthusiasm from local communities that even before the opening of nominations, she’d received 10 notes of interest from areas as diverse as Galloway, Largo Bay, Lochaber and Skye.

It’s clear that many communities see this as a historic opportunity to build something special that will harness national resources to boost their environment and their local economy, and help combat climate breakdown.

It’s important that the nomination process will be community-driven. A national park can’t work if it doesn’t have the support of the local communities that rely on it. That means ensuring the park meets their unique economic, social and environmental needs.

Nobody in Scotland should be in any doubt about what’s at stake when it comes to the climate and nature emergencies.

In June, we saw massive wildfires, with land equivalent to 2100 football pitches burned near Cannich, and in the months following we saw global temperatures hit record levels, with the UN Secretary-General saying that we had entered “the era of global boiling”.

Then last weekend, torrential rains and flooding caused havoc across the country with the horrendous floods, landslides and chaos caused by the abnormal weather over the weekend.

Entire hillsides and roads washed away, caravan parks and fields inundated, communities marooned and crops devastated, all the clearest signs yet of why we need to do so much more to tackle and mitigate the causes of the climate crisis and their ripple effects on biodiversity.

With biodiversity already declining faster than at any time in human history, our response needs to be significant, and it needs to work for our environment and the communities who depend on it.

Equally there is more benefit than just to our landscapes, rural economies and wildlife. The impact on our individual wellbeing is something no-one can really put a price on, and that’s another extraordinary benefit that will come with a new park.

We all recognised how important getting into nature was during the Covid pandemic, how it in many ways reconnected us with a sense of wellbeing.

That is something many people say has remained as they continue to be more active and adventurous than before.

For our young people especially, the chance to get outside and explore has never been more vital at a time when climate anxiety and the daily grind of life can become overwhelming, or with every image we see from Ukraine and now Gaza on the television news.

National parks are more than natural treasures. They can be anchor points in life, inspirational, educational and sustainable in equal measure. I for one cannot wait to see where the next one will be.

READ MORE: More devolution won’t bring the investment Scotland needs 

The launch this week of the bidding process is a massive opportunity for communities across Scotland to make a real noise about where they think the new national park should be.

Their interest, and enthusiasm, really cannot be overstated at all as it will have a significant bearing on the selection process as a community-led initiative and in terms of proving why their area is of national importance and why it would benefit.

As a Scottish Green I am immensely proud that we have been able to make this happen and that in Lorna Slater, it is a Green minister who is not only delivering, but setting us on course for how a future Scotland can look.

I would urge everyone to get involved in the process, support the projects in your area if you have one, and help choose your next national park.