Construction of a hilltrack near Achnashellach. Photo: Tim Hall

Construction of a hilltrack near Achnashellach. Photo: Tim Hall

A group of conservation charities is urging Scottish politicians to tackle the problem of the growing number of vehicle tracks on the nation’s hillsides.

Scottish Environment Link Hilltracks group said the Holyrood parliament has a golden opportunity to control the spread of the eyesore tracks in the most sensitive areas of countryside.

Green Party MSP Andy Wightman has tabled amendments to the Planning Bill going through the Scottish Parliament designed to close loopholes that allow landowners to build many of the controversial tracks without planning permission.

The Link Hilltracks group, a coalition of 10 charities, said its research found the tracks continue to creep further into wilder landscapes, and that planning loopholes can lead to them being badly sited and designed.

Some tracks have even been built over the top of narrow, low-impact trails and historical routes, with little chance for the public to comment in advance, it said.

Helen Todd, co-convenor of Link Hilltracks group and Ramblers Scotland’s campaigns and policy manager, said: “There is a compelling case for stronger controls over vehicle roads in our hills, to boost local democracy, improve construction standards and protect precious environments.

“For too long, landowners have been able to expand tracks further and further into wild landscapes with little oversight from authorities or the public.”

Scotland’s outdoors enthusiasts are being encouraged to make their voices heard, by writing to MSPs using an online form on the Ramblers’ website.

A track scars the flanks of a hill at Ledgowan

A track scars the flanks of a hill at Ledgowan

Beryl Leatherland, co-convenor of the group and also convenor of Scottish Wild Land Group said: “This week’s vote offers MSPs the chance to get a grip on this damaging activity, by changing the law to protect our countryside.

“We urge all hillgoers to email their MSPs to raise their concerns using our quick online form.”

Scottish Environmental Link’s Hilltracks group includes Ramblers Scotland, RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wild Land Group, John Muir Trust, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorms Campaign, North East Mountain Trust, Scottish Campaign for National Parks and Scottish Wild Land Group.

Mr Wightman’s previous amendments to tackle the spread of hill tracks were voted down by a seven-person committee last November, but this time all 129 MSPs can vote.

The latest amendments would require full planning consent for tracks in Scotland’s two national parks; on all land used mainly for shooting or other field sports; in sites of special scientific interest; in designated battlefield sites and in national scenic areas.

The Link group said, after decades of campaigning from environment and recreation bodies, the Scottish Government launched a new system in 2014 requiring landowners to tell authorities before building agricultural and forestry tracks – but generally full planning permission is not required.

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