People are key to Cairngorms Connect. The 200-year vision for the Cairngorms Connect landscape means it aims to survive everyone currently living and working in the landscape. To be resilient against future challenges, ones that may negatively affect the ambitious plans for habitat restoration, the Cairngorms Connect project needs to have importance and meaning for people, both now and in future generations.
People are at the heart of Cairngorms Connect, and alongside the ecological scientific monitoring projects, we also want to monitor the impact of the habitat restoration work on people. To do this we are looking at three main societal indicators - Economics, Empowerment and Influence, and Public Attitudes to Restoration.
Image (above): Local contractors employed by the Cairngorms Connect partnership, to carry out peatland restoration work.
For a project to be resilient it needs to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. As Scotland transitions to a low carbon economy, it is looking for opportunities to support jobs in a way that meets all three of these conditions.
The economic indicator is used to measure the direct and additional economic impact of the Cairngorms connect project on the economy of the local area. Real market economic impact can be measured in jobs and value added to the local economy. The economic indicator aims to demonstrate the impacts on these.
Image (above): Partnership staff gather at a non-native removal workshop, to find out more about the work.
In order to be sustainable, a wide range of people - including partnership staff and local communities - need to feel able to feed into Cairngorms Connect decision making.
Cairngorms Connect processes and actions need to empower people to put forward their thoughts and ideas, to be a part of the project and the landscape. The risk is that if people do not feel a part of the project, have no routes for expressing their thoughts and ideas or aren’t considered seriously, they will disengage from Cairngorms Connect and the landscape restoration loses its support for the future.
Consequently, the team need to know how the current approaches to engagement affect how people feel about their ability to inform the project and their sense of belonging to Cairngorms Connect.
The team also want to examine what methods of public engagement are most satisfactory for the public. With the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacting the way people can interact with each other, ensuring people have ways they can communicate with the team has become more important than ever, and restoring these relationships will be a key area of activity in the next few years.
How do we monitor empowerment?
A range of surveys are being conducted to assess whether people perceive themselves to be engaged and a part of the project, able to feed in their views, opinions and ideas. Four audience groups have been identified based on broad motivations for engaging with Cairngorms Connect:
Surveys are being conducted to try and determine whether people are engaging with Cairngorms Connect through the expected processes, using other routes to pass on their thoughts and ideas, or have disengaged with the project. Looking at why people may have disengaged or not feel part of the Cairngorms Connect landscape, will hopefully build a more inclusive project in the future.
Image (above): An example of a survey used to monitor socioeconomic aspects of Cairngorms Connect.
Change can be a challenging thing, and a major consideration in landscape restoration is public attitudes towards a changing landscape. This is especially important in the highlands of Scotland, where some more intensively managed habitats, are widely viewed as aesthetically pleasing natural landscapes. One of the goals of Cairngorms Connect is to inform a wide range of people about the project, to increase awareness of benefits and engage people with the habitat and ecological restoration.
How do we monitor attitudes?
Every few years, we are monitoring attitudes among people resident in the local area and visitors to the region. Monitoring is carried out through a short, face-to-face survey that asks questions about:
By asking a mix of closed and open questions the monitoring survey can compare information between years and also start to investigate underlying reasons for these attitudes. By asking people to give short explanations of why they selected the answer they did, a picture builds up of aspects of habitat restoration that may be barriers for people’s engagement with it, or that may, wonderfully, drive their support. This information provides some direction for what engagement may need to take account of and include in the following years.