Blog: Scotland the wild

Simon Boyle

Simon Boyle outlines an argument against developing more wind farms in the Highlands.

The Scottish Highlands immediately conjure up images of remote glens, cascading burns, beautiful lochs and rugged mountains. It is a landscape rich in history and tradition; of mighty clan chiefs, solitary castles, epic battles and malt whisky from the purest mountain waters. We imagine that the Highlands have always been this way and always remain wild and untamed.

Because so much of Scotland was wild land there was a reluctance, primarily among major land owners, to have any National Parks in Scotland. In England the first National Park, the Peak District, was established in 1951. But in Scotland it was not until 2002, over fifty years later, that the first Scottish National Park was established. This was the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, which was followed a year later by the second, the Cairngorms National Park. However, no further National Parks have been designated in Scotland since.

Most of the Highlands and Islands therefore do not fall within a National Park. Many areas have been designated as National Scenic Areas, although this does not provide the same level of protection as National Parks.

There is much wild land in Scotland that does not enjoy any statutory protection and this land is under threat of development as never before. This threat is primarily from wind farms as the Scottish government is keen to push a renewables agenda. There is a very strong economic case for having much more energy from renewable sources, but in the Scottish Highlands a major drawback is the loss of peat that must be displaced for a windfarm and its associated infrastructure to be built, the unintended consequence of which is to diminish some of the advantages in reducing carbon emissions.

One major positive step in June 2014 was the publication by Scottish Natural Heritage of the Wild Land Areas Map. For the first time we have an official map showing the wild land areas in Scotland. Whilst this new map was referred to in the third National Planning Framework, which states that “wild land is a nationally important asset,” it does not provide any additional legal safeguards to wild land.

The current case at Stronelairg in the Monadhliath Mountains illustrates the point, as there the Scottish government has agreed to a 67 turbine wild farm being built in an area right next to wild land. Not only will this impact the wilderness quality of this remote area, but it is likely to have an adverse effect on biodiversity and wildlife, particularly birds that collide with the blades. This decision will be the subject of a judicial review in mid February.

Some campaigners claim that man-made structures will be visible from 80 per cent of Scotland if all the proposed developments are delivered, up from 65 per cent in 2008. This would have a marked impact on wild land, which in turn is likely to dent the £22 billion that nature provides to the Scottish economy every year. With the majority of Scottish business leaders wanting wildlife to be enhanced and landmark decisions on wild land being taken this year, the time is right to apply as much pressure as possible to protect these vital areas.

Scotland’s wild lands may seem timeless and inviolate but they are being lost at an alarming rate and urgent action is necessary if they are not to be lost forever.

  • Simon Boyle is environmental law director at Landmark Information Group

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