A hilltrack under construction

A hilltrack under construction

The Scottish Government has come under renewed attack for its decision to continue the free-for-all for the building of tracks across the nation’s hills and mountains.

Scottish Environment Link, which represents more than 30 voluntary environmental organisations, said the Holyrood administration’s lack of action to stop the untrammelled construction of the tracks risks causing permanent damage.

A spokesperson for the umbrella organisation, which claims half a million people among its supporters, said: “Scottish Environment Link is surprised and seriously disappointed to hear the announcement that the Scottish Government has decided not to remove permitted development rights for agricultural and forestry tracks.

“This is despite the Government’s earlier statement that it had received ‘compelling evidence’ of the damage that uncontrolled development of these tracks has caused, and therefore was convinced of the need to amend the legislation and bring the construction of hilltracks into the planning system.”

Deborah Long, chair of Scottish Environment Link, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Scottish Government is backtracking on its previous intention to finally bring this unrestrained development into the planning system, a position supported by research from Heriot Watt University.

Scotland's uplands are at risk, the charity said

Scotland's uplands are at risk, the charity said

“Our fragile upland habitats are now opened up to ever greater proliferation of these tracks and potential long-term damage.

“This relentless attrition of our precious wild land areas from bulldozed hilltracks has been an issue of great concern to Link members for many years, and has contributed to the shrinking of the extent of land unaffected by visual intrusion in Scotland from 41 per cent to 28 per cent between 2002 and 2009.”

The charity, which has among its members Ramblers Scotland, RSPB Scotland, the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association and the National Trust for Scotland, added its criticism to that of the Mountaineering Council for Scotland, which called the Scottish Government’s decision ‘feeble’.

Ms Long added: “While new hilltracks in national scenic areas already require planning permission, the majority of land, in our national parks and elsewhere, continues as fair game for landowners.

“The proposed amendment to planning legislation would have brought some measure of protection to these areas. Some of these tracks are simply bulldozed through fragile habitats with erosion scars spreading across the landscape, but even well constructed tracks could be in the wrong place.

“If these tracks are for legitimate land management purposes then landowners have nothing to fear from bringing them under proper public scrutiny through the planning system.

“While we are disappointed to lose out on this decision, it is Scotland’s natural environment which is the real loser.

“Responsible landowners should not be using the tired excuse of ‘an extra bureaucratic burden being added’. They should be acting as custodians of Scotland’s world-famous landscapes for all our benefits.”

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