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Connecting research and management needs for the Cairngorms National Park

Connecting research and management needs for the Cairngorms National Park

The following case study summarises work delivered as part of a recent SEFARI Fellowship with the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). SEFARI Fellowships are bespoke opportunities co-constructed with key partners to deliver solutions to priority needs that also meet Scottish Government National Outcomes and aligned United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In this case, the CNPA wanted to review their strategic research priorities, with a view to refreshing their CNP Research Strategy. The Fellow, Professor Alison Hester of the James Hutton Institute, undertook a review of published research carried out in the Cairngorms National Park; identified themes for future development of a Cairngorms Research database; identified major research gaps from the perspective of CNPA; and explored how to improve the use of knowledge and data created.  The results of this work include key-word search lists of published papers and research reports for the CNP, summary information on priority research-related challenges identified by CNPA staff, and a set of recommendations. All the above are being used to inform and underpin the preparation of the next CNPA Research Strategy. 


Work Completed

Directory of Expertise


Cairngorms National Park (CNP) is home to an iconic landscape, to over 18,000 people and 25% of the UK’s rare and endangered species, and visited by over 1.8 million people every year. Every five years, Cairngorm National Park Authority establishes a Partnership Plan, which is an overarching management strategy for all the organisations responsible for safeguarding the Park. This includes land-owners and managers, local authorities, a wide range of agencies and people who work and live there. 

This partnership approach extends to the research that informs the planning and management within the CNPA. The previous Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan 2012-2017 prompted the development of a National Park Research Strategy (CNP Research Strategy 2012-2017). Key issues identified in this Research Strategy were: the need for better connections between researchers, land managers, businesses, communities and policy makers; developing an information hub for research in the Cairngorms; and supporting the delivery of the Scottish Government-funded Strategic Research Programme

Cairngorms Research” was established as a hub to promote research, often across disciplines, that addresses management needs in the Park, with the following three primary aims: (1) encourage connections between researchers and those working to manage land and/or resources within the Park; (2) inform research priorities and share the results of research; and (3) make the most of the opportunities presented by the Park to contribute to wider research agendas. Cairngorms Research is also a member of a formal network of research sites all across Europe (and beyond) that are called Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) Platforms. 

Within this context, a SEFARI Fellowship was to co-designed between SEFARI Gateway, the Knowledge and Impact hub for SEFARI, and Cairngorms Research to help review CNPA strategic research priorities over the next 5 years, with a view to refreshing the CNP Research Strategy.  In addition to the three main tasks outlined above, the Fellow, Prof. Alison Hester, also undertook a summary review of relevant ongoing research in the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme (SRP) 2016-2021 Natural Assets Theme. This provides useful information for CNPA staff about relevant research that is ongoing but not yet published, thereby increasing the connectivity between the CNPA and the SRP. This also supports the fourth bulleted aim on page 80 of the CNP Partnership Plan 2017-22: “supporting delivery of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme”. SEFARI Gateway and Alison would like to thank Marcus Craigie for the work he did in support of the fellowship. 



Reviewing published research within the CNP: the keyword searches specifically focused on research carried out in the CNP - the resulting reference lists from the two searches give a useful flavour of CNP-located research published to date and help to identify areas that seem to have been less studied than others within the CNP. This can be used to help direct students for future projects, along with the assessment of research priorities for CNPA (see the Report). We recommend that the CNP Authority (CNPA) repeat the keyword searches before each renewal of their Research Strategy, to help inform each updating of the priority research areas.

Identification of key themes of relevance for a potential Cairngorms Research database: utilised the information drawn from individual interviews with selected CNPA staff, contextualised through the strategic priorities and targets extracted from the various CNP strategic documents. The information kindly shared by interviewed staff was immensely helpful to this process. This information represents an important pointer for future work as per the needs of the Park, in particular for identifying major barriers to progress and ways to address them. It also helps with identifying specific topics for focused-reviews where a strong need has been identified for a better understanding of the best research knowledge to support and inform specific actions within the Park. 

One of the most striking points coming from the interviews was that, by and large, the biggest challenges in people’s work were more likely to relate to big, overarching issues, as opposed to specific gaps in research knowledge relating to their key targets and actions. Examples of these overarching issues are: (a) the lack of data availability at whole-Park level (this could be economic or planning data, or data on species populations and trends over time); (b) data availability at resolutions required for action on the ground; (c) how to reconcile contradictory research findings and polarised views on desirable land uses; (d) influencing-factors outwith the ‘control’ of the CNPA that have knock-on effects on the work that they do; (e) a need for climate change impact assessments and scenario work to assess likely future outcomes of actions taken.



Several key points emerged during this Fellowship, drawing ideas from all the information gathered and the valuable discussions with CNPA staff. The CNPA are currently looking at their strategic research priorities over the next five years, with a view to refreshing the CNP Research Strategy. Key recommendations include: (1) Identifying priority, topic-focused research / synthesis needs to underpin and inform specific Park priorities and targets for action; (2) Sharing information with academic institutions looking for research project ideas within the Park, to maximise win-win opportunities for students and CNPA staff working together on key research gaps; (3) Closer alignment with Scottish Government-funded research - this is of paramount importance for small public bodies, such as the CNPA with no in-house research teams. There is already a formal input by agencies and other bodies to the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme planning process for each five-year programme and it is recommended that CNPA are proactive within this process - many of the CNPA’s research priorities are also shared by other public bodies, such as Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Environment Protection Agency, so there are much wider benefits to be had in bringing all organisations more closely together to input and discuss their research needs.

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