NATIONAL parks have been created to celebrate, protect and enhance the most outstanding places the world over. 

Scotland is a country blessed with the most extraordinary landscapes and natural environments - and was home to John Muir, one of the early pioneers of the national park movement - yet has only two national parks to its name.  

These two parks, created in the early years of devolution, have proved themselves in terms of the great benefits they have brought to local communities by creating jobs, vibrant local economies, supporting visitor management and investment in facilities, and protecting and restoring the natural heritage of the area.  

But it’s now time to add to them. To build a national park network, similar to those seen in other countries across the world.   

That’s why Scottish Greens in Government have committed to establishing at least one new national park in this session of Parliament. To deliver this, we have taken a bottom-up, grassroots approach. Communities have been invited to develop and submit bids to make their areas a national park.  

The bids have inspired and mobilised local people and groups across our country, leading to important conversations about how these special places can enhance our local economies, deliver secure high-quality jobs and work for people and planet.  

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Some of those working on the bids have poured their heart and souls into it, with all of them wanting to secure a new living legacy for their part of the world.  

At the moment, Scotland has two national parks: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and the Cairngorms, which have evolved into proud beacons of biodiversity and geographical gems to be treasured. They are also playing a crucial role in tackling climate change and protecting our precious natural environment for future generations. 

Loch Lomond was so memorably brought to life in the form of a song that traditionally closes Scottish weddings, but today it embraces both local needs and global appeal. Its status as a national park has helped to make it one of the wonders of the west. 

A first look at Cairngorm national park still draws people’s breath at the glorious landscape, and it weaves its way across our country and provides a natural bridge for so many communities. 

National Park status brings a huge range of benefits, including additional investment, cultural and heritage support and enhanced protection for their unique environments. They also support sustainable tourism by welcoming, educating and managing millions of visitors. 

By working with a wide range of local partners – including landowners and managers, farmers and crofters, public bodies, local businesses and third sector organisations – our National Parks are helping to protect our cultural heritage and transform a story of national natural loss to one of restoration. 

There’s a lot of work to do. At present, Scotland is 28th from the bottom of the international list of 240 countries in nature degradation. Our national parks have an important role in helping to reset that terrible record. 

Only last month my Scottish Green colleague Lorna Slater visited the Cairngorms to announce a major £10.7 million investment by the Heritage Lottery Fund into the fantastic Cairngorms 2030 programme. 

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Along with funding from the Scottish Government and others, the total value of the programme could reach up to £42m. This ambitious and pioneering project will help to make the Cairngorms the UK’s first net zero national park. 

By creating vast new woodland, supporting active travel and transport in the park, restoring nature, investing in local green farming with six trial net zero farms, and working to establish the Cairngorms as a beacon of sustainability and set a crucial precedent for all national parks across the UK to follow. 

When it comes to the Highlands and Islands region that I represent, one of the first things most will comment on is the miles and miles of breathtaking scenery.  

And it’s true. We are home to vast parks, rolling hills and iconic coastlines that stretch on for miles and provide a stunning and beautiful backdrop to daily life. But these green spaces aren’t just for sightseers, they provide homes for our wildlife and nature, and economic opportunities, recreation and livelihoods for local people. 

It wasn’t so very long ago that lots of us would have given anything to be able to experience the great outdoors. All of those days stuck inside reminded lots of us that our freedom, open space, our incredible wildlife and landscapes can never be taken for granted.  

The shadow of the pandemic lingered long for me, underlining how vital our green spaces are, how our link with nature has broken and how far we have allowed so much of it to deteriorate.  

In terms of promoting active lifestyles, driving repopulation, boosting nature-based education, and promoting positive mental health and freedoms from the daily grind, we will all be better off the more national parks we have.