A hilltrack near Achnasheen

A hilltrack near Achnasheen

Scotland’s hills are being subjected to environmental vandalism as tracks are gouged across the nation’s uplands, campaigners said.

A coalition of nine charities called on the Scottish Government to change the law to force landowners to apply for planning permission for hilltracks.

The umbrella group Scottish Environment Link said there is evidence of massive damage to mountain landscapes, wildlife and habitat by some of the tracks, built for motor vehicles but not subject to planning laws.

The tracks are built under permitted development rights.

Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland and co-convener of the campaign group said: “We asked Scottish hillwalkers to send us photos of tracks which have damaged our countryside.

“The report gives compelling photographic evidence of the degradation being caused by this planning-free-for-all. In some cases it amounts to nothing short of environmental vandalism.

“Our organisations have been concerned about the unrestrained development of hilltracks over many decades, but the situation has become much more serious in recent years with the increasing use of diggers, bulldozers and other vehicles that can better cope with Scotland’s mountainous terrain.

“We are seeing tracks going into areas of wild land, gouging large trenches out of landforms which were laid down in the last Ice Age.

Campaigners say tracks gouge large trenches out of landforms

Campaigners say tracks gouge large trenches out of landforms

“Tracks are dug deep into peat, destroying fragile and sensitive habitats and disturbing wildlife, and they are proliferating across our hills, seriously scarring the landscape.”

Beryl Leatherland of Scottish Wild Land Group and co-convenor of the campaign group said: “We are not trying to stop the development of all tracks, but the current system is unfair to the public interest.

“It does not allow for any public consultation or proper consideration of the value of landscapes and wildlife.

“In our report we show evidence of tracks being bulldozed across some of the country’s most iconic landscapes, even parts of our national parks, without any care for their design or impact.

“It is hard to believe that if you want to build a conservatory on a house in any street in Scotland you have to go through a rigorous planning process and yet a track can be bulldozed through even a designated nature conservation site without any scrutiny at all.

“We think that regulation is essential and should be welcomed by all concerned.”

The Track Changes report was published today by Scottish Environmental Link. It is backed by Ramblers Scotland, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the John Muir Trust, National Trust Scotland and the Scottish Wild Land Group, along with five other organisations.

Scottish Government last year dropped its proposal to bring tracks with purported agricultural or forestry purposes into the planning system, but said that it would keep the situation under review.

The Link campaign hopes to persuade ministers to reconsider this decision. Planning minister Derek Mackay visited the site of one of the tracks highlighted in the report with members of Link and has been sent a copy of the report.

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