WHILE newspapers like the Advertiser – at least in their traditional printed, buy-it-in-the-shops-and-hold-it-in-your-hands form – would not exist without trees, trees do not normally make for headlines in the Advertiser.

But trees are important to many people. A large part of the concern around proposals to build houses in Portincaple – the subject which dominated our most recent letters page – relates to the impact on the surrounding environment.

And elsewhere on this site in the last few days, we've reported on the National Park’s announcement that it has taken action to prevent further unauthorised felling of trees on a site in Tarbet which has been earmarked for a major visitor development.

Rules are there to be obeyed, of course. And the wonderful natural environment that surrounds us in Helensburgh and the wider Loch Lomond, Loch Long and National Park area is a very large part of the reason why people come here to visit in such large numbers.

READ MORE: Helensburgh's MSP says governments must give 'as much help as possible' to area's beleaguered tourism industry

Or, rather, why they did come to visit in such large numbers – until the C-word took over our lives.

Only last week we reported the warning of local tourism expert James Fraser that plans to restart the industry in mid-July might not be enough to prevent the loss of up to 2,000 jobs across the National Park area.

Jobs have already gone, of course – not least in Tarbet itself, where, just across the road from part of Moulsdale Properties’ proposed development site, the Tarbet Hotel closed its doors in May – along with the Claymore Hotel in nearby Arrochar – when its owners, the Specialist Leisure Group, collapsed as a direct result of the pandemic

In those circumstances it’s only natural to wonder whether we might be tempted to think again about which way the balance goes when the environment and the economy are potentially in conflict.

READ MORE: Tourism in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs 'facing meltdown' due to pandemic, warns industry expert

We’ve seen that at the southern end of Loch Lomond already. Tens of thousands of people, across Scotland and around the world, expressed their opposition to Flamingo Land's proposals for a major tourism development in Balloch – currently in suspended animation after being withdrawn last year.

Yet every time we ask on social media what our local audience thinks, the majority is always in favour, citing the jobs the project will bring to Balloch, the Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Dumbarton when – or indeed if – it becomes a reality.

So does that mean I’m backing a wholesale burning of the regulations, opening the doors to a free-for-all for those who would turn the shores of our lochs into endless stretches of ugly second homes for the sake of a quick buck?

Well, no. In rural Scotland the fortunes of the environment and the fortunes of the economy are, and always will be, inextricably linked.

READ MORE: MSP claims new milestone in Loch Lomond Flamingo Land battle

Tip that balance too far away from protection of our natural landscape and there is a very grave risk that people will no longer want to visit.

But I do think there’s a debate to be had over whether, post-Covid, we should look again at the balance between environmental interests and economic ones.

Helensburgh itself, as a Glasgow 'commuter belt' town with a huge Royal Navy presence, may not have an economy that’s as dependent on visitors as other places relatively nearby.

But if, as is feared, Scotland’s tourism industry does take years to get back to its pre-2020 health, the town will certainly feel the effects.

READ MORE: Click here to catch up with all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond news headlines