It is National Parks Week and two of Scotland's wilderness areas are holding activities to encourage young and old to experience the natural beauty
THEY CONTAIN some of the most picturesque landscapes in Scotland; some of the highest peaks, the largest lakes, the oldest forests. But it is only five years ago that Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and the Cairn-gorms were recognised as national parks, more than 50 years after the Lake District received the same protection.
Yet within that short time they have come to be seen as national treasures. A random telephone survey of 1,000 people carried out on behalf of the Association of National Parks Authorities, and published this week, found 93 per cent of people considered National Parks important, while 96 per cent were convinced that all children should be given an opportunity to experience the parks first hand as part of their education.
The ANPA hopes the findings will lead to more funding for educational activities. "We get many schools coming to the area and there are different opportunities for education," explains Stephanie Bungay, spokesperson for the Cairngorms, the UK's largest national park.
"Our education officer oversees many different courses, including courses on farming and out- door instruction for those pupils who don't wish to pursue academic subjects."
The movement to create national parks, where people would be free to roam and the countryside afforded extra protection, dates back to the early 19th century, when William Words-worth famously claimed the Lake District as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".
But it wasn't until 1951 that the first national park was established in his beloved Lake District. Since then 14 parks, in-cluding the two in Scotland, have been recognised.
Over the past week, the ANPA has been celebrating the beauties of the parks in its annual National Parks Week (July 30-August 5). Visitors to the rugged landscape of both Scottish parks have been able to take part in bat walks and other activities. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs has run a Gaelic day and organised walks, while Cairngorms has run nature trails, pond dip- ping, beach sculptures and bug catching sessions.
Over this coming weekend, Cairngorms is organising a nine-mile walk from Inverey to the summit of Carn Liath, a family fun day at Insh Marshes, a dragonfly training day at Ballater and a walk into the ancient Caledonian pine forest at Abernethy.
On Saturday by Loch Lomond, visitors will be able to step back in time and experience the sights, sounds and smells of a living history encampment at Tarbet, where there will be green wood working, willow crafts, natural dying, and spinning.
On Sunday, there will be a magni-walk on Inchcailloch. Using magnifying glasses (provided) visitors will accompany the countryside ranger through the not-so-often-looked-at areas of this National Nature Reserve's natural history.
The events have been specially arranged for National Parks Week, but the organisers are keen to point out that events are held regularly within the parks, which are open for everyone to enjoy all year round.
"National parks are very important assets. They not only offer some of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in the country, but are also home to important habitat and wild- life," says David Green, convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
"It is encouraging that so many organisations around the park recognise and value its environment and that they are celebrating the best of this during National Parks Week."
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs (est. 2002)
The park is 1,865 sq km (720 sq miles) and has a boundary length of 350km (220miles)
It contains 20 munros (mountains above 3,000ft or 915m) and the highest is Ben More at 1,174m (3,851ft)
There are 20 corbetts (mountains between 2,500ft-3,000ft)
There are 22 larger lochs, with numerous smaller lochs and lochans
There are about 50 rivers and large burns
15,600 people live in the national park (2001 census)
It includes two forest parks Queen Elizabeth in the Trossachs and Argyll in Cowal
Cairngorms National Park (est. 2003)
The park is 3,800 sq kilometres in area, 40 per cent larger than the Lake District and twice the size of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Four of Scotland's five highest mountains are here; there are 52 summits over 900m; 10 per cent of the land area is over 800m and 68 per cent is over 400m above sea level
39 per cent of the area is desig-nated as important for nature heritage; 25 per cent is of European importance
The park is home to 25 per cent of the UK's threatened bird, animal and plant species
It is also home to 16,000 people, living in substantial towns, villages, hamlets, and houses in the countryside. At 4.2 people per sq km, the population density is very low
At least 500,000 people are thought to have visited the Cairngorms in 2001