The park contains two publicly owned country parks — Hillend Country Park and Bonaly Country Park.
These attract predominantly local visitors. In addition, there are two visitor centres in Harlaw and Flotterstone, which are well-known beauty spots and attract walkers and visitors from a wide area.
Maintaining the fabric of the park is not easy. Much of the work is done by a team of 40 volunteer rangers, who get six months of structured training. At weekends, they help with routine maintenance and assist visitors. The more serious work is done by specialised contractors. There are also eight full-time rangers. One of the rangers is employed nearly full-time to check on the 100km of paths that criss-cross the hills. Another ranger co-ordinates the volunteer rangers.
There is a ranger responsible for communications — producing leaflets and maintaining the website — another is responsible for biodiversity and one for education. Regional park manager Alan McGregor explains: "Everyone has their own function. It seems to work well."
The park management does little planting or land management. However, the park is trying to reintroduce juniper to the site. It is also trying to improve the way that the heather is managed to ensure that the grazing and burning is done effectively.
The park sees its job as opening up free access to the countryside. As part of this work, it has created strong links with local schools. Rangers visit schools and school parties come to the park for educational visits, talks and outdoor activities. The park rangers try to ensure that their educational work meets the demands of the national curriculum. In addition the park encourages such activities as hill races, orienteering, equestrian events and sponsored walks.
With so many landowners and interest groups, the park has had to adopt what it describes as ‘integrated management’. A consultative forum meets four times a year to discuss major issues. The forum includes the various landowners, local authorities and wildlife and nature groups.
McGregor explains: "The big issues at the moment are things like wild camping and mountain bike trails. We can’t prohibit people from using the park, but we want to make sure it is done responsibly. The forum gives farmers and landowners a port of call. It offers advice for anyone wanting to put on an event. It’s an immensely useful resource."
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