Views such as this are becoming rare in the Highlands as wilderness shrinks

Views such as this are becoming rare in the Highlands as wilderness shrinks

Scotland’s mountaineering body has enlisted the support of two Labour MSPs in the fight against the unfettered burgeoning of hill tracks that scar many mountainous areas.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland’s access and conservation officer Hebe Carus said the tracks are an eyesore and a blight on some of the nation’s most scenic and wild landscapes. Current planning laws allow the building of farm and forest tracks with no constraints as long as they are built for agricultural or forestry purposes.

Less than a third of the country is now without the mark of mankind. Government figures show that between 2002 and 2005, the area of Scotland unaffected by views of man-made developments fell from 42 per cent to 32 per cent.

Peter Peacock, Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament to call for action to stop these developments. He enlisted the support of Sarah Boyack, who represents Edinburgh Central. The two have also started an online petition for the public to register their view.

Hebe Carus said: “I regularly receive photographs of outstandingly badly constructed tracks through previously wild areas, even in supposedly protected areas.

“The sad thing is that these are irreversible and completely uncontrolled through the planning system. The longer the review of permitted development rights is delayed the more of wild Scotland will be lost forever. PDR are regulations that are quite complicated, but basically permit landowners, without any permission or control, to construct tracks for forestry or agricultural reasons. Many of these tracks are in upland areas where there are only a few sheep or where an unviable plantation exists.

“The Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 is supposed to modernise the planning system for the benefit of the people and environment of Scotland, but the implementation timetable is being permitted to slip repeatedly.

“There has already been more than a three-year delay since a report by Heriot-Watt University, commissioned by the Scottish Executive, clearly recommended an extensive overhaul of the uncontrolled rights of landowners to construct hill tracks through our beautiful wild areas.

“The Scottish Government has taken no action on this. Unless there is considerable pressure put on the Scottish Government, the planned tightening of the system of controls will slip so far into the future that it has no prospect of being considered in this Scottish Parliament.”

Ms Boyack, Labour’s shadow minister for the environment, said: “The construction, regulation and control of hill tracks within the uplands of Scotland desperately need to be addressed in order to protect our natural heritage and environment.

“The anticipated date for reviewing permitted development rights in relation to non-household development has slipped again and again.

“Now it seems unlikely that a parliamentary review of regulation of permitted development rights in relation to the construction of hill tracks will take place anytime soon, so we need to urge the Scottish government to act sooner.

“Many of my constituents, who enjoy the wild land and sense of wilderness you can get from walking and climbing, are having that sense diminished by the development of hill new tracks. I hope a demonstration of concern by people across Scotland will help persuade the government to move more quickly to review a tightening of the regulations.”

Peter Peacock took up the issue after receiving complaints from constituents about the impact of a hill road constructed on the north slopes of Beinn Bhùraich above Loch Mhòr in the Monadhliath Mountains.

He said: “Farmers and crofters have a legitimate need to construct, maintain and develop tracks constructed in lower lying land for their purposes of land management.

“However, little regulation of hill tracks has allowed increased development and use of these tracks within the uplands for vehicular use which could have harmful impacts on the landscape and consequently on flora and fauna.

“Erosion, poor design and overuse of hill tracks cause further damage to our countryside, and this has become increasingly evident to hillwalkers and mountaineers.

“With almost no control over construction or upgrading of hill tracks, the effect on the Scottish environment has been detrimental. Unless this issue is addressed our natural environment will continue to suffer under the lack of regulation of hill tracks.”

Ms Carus is urging readers to add their name to the online petition and is asking Scottish residents to contact their MSPs to enlist their support.

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