A motion will be debated in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon that calls for 'a step change in conserving wild land and endangered species'.
Motion S4M-6502, Endangered Species and Wild Land Conservation, has been lodged by Murdo Fraser MSP, with cross-party support from other Conservative, Labour, SNP and independent MSPs. Conservation groups including the John Muir Trust and Ramblers Scotland have also welcomed it, using the motion as a platform to express some far-reaching ideas on landscape conservation. These proposals include subsidising only offshore wind farm developments in future, and a massive westwards extension of the Cairngorms National Park in order to better protect the park's core area.
'We recognise the difficult challenge faced by politicians in having to balance the needs of wild land protection against the need to develop sources of renewable energy' says a Ramblers Scotland statement.
'However we believe that while global climate change and energy security issues need to be addressed, with urgency, the way this is being done at present is damaging Scotland's overall environmental quality and reputation. We support the development of renewable energy, including wind energy, but believe that there need to be major changes to planning policy and the financial incentives that underpin windfarm development. The landscape impacts of large turbines, especially in and near areas valued for their wild land qualities need to be given greater recognition.'
On land the majority of future development should be local and small scale, say Ramblers Scotland, while future large scale developments, with turbines 100 metres or more in height, should be offshore.
'In the case of the Cairngorms it is now clearly evident that there is a serious problem with the western boundary of the national park. Development pressure outside this boundary threatens the integrity of the National Park as a whole'
'We are supportive of the proposal from the John Muir Trust to create a new environmental designation to protect wild land, but are concerned that the process for establishing such a designation, including new legislation, will take too long and too small an area of Scotland will be protected for its wild land value' the Ramblers continue.
'There is a need to emphasise that Scotland is a country that is renowned across the world for the beauty of its scenery. The landscapes which form the very essence of this reputation are essentially wild and relatively unmodified by human activity. So much of the land has never been cultivated, much of the landforms have remained since the last Ice Age, largely unmodified, and industrial development affects only a small proportion of the land surface. Over so much of Scotland, the natural vegetation remains, albeit that forest cover has changed substantially and many moorland areas have been modified by burning and grazing. Nevertheless, there are few other countries in the world where the degree of modification of landforms and vegetation is less, especially in upland areas, and this is a key factor in maintaining Scotland's reputation as a country of great natural beauty, of which its 'wildness' is an integral part.'
'We hope that politicians of all parties will recognise these qualities and resolve to give them greater protection.'
'It is necessary also to emphasise how wild land in Scotland is readily accessible to the main population centres. Our towns and cities are very much closer to our wild land than in many other countries – a wild land experience in Scotland can be enjoyed in a few hours from home or hotel, without the need for a multiday excursion. This accessibility of our wild land, and the wild weather than is often part of the experience, needs to be taken into account in deciding how to best protect the resource and its enjoyment.'
While considering the need for a wild land designation, the Ramblers also ask if enough is being done to ensure that the existing suite of designations, whether Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Scenic Areas, or National Parks, is being used effectively enough to protect wild land.
'In the case of the Cairngorms it is now clearly evident that there is a serious problem with the western boundary of the national park. Development pressure outside this boundary threatens the integrity of the National Park as a whole' they claim.
'This boundary is far too close to the central part of the Cairngorms massif, the Cairn Gorm - Ben Macdui and Braeriach - Cairn Toul plateaux. These plateaux are the finest examples that we have in the UK of truly wild, unspoilt mountain landscape, akin to the wilderness areas of northern Scandinavia and other arctic lands. It is extraordinary that the views from this superb tract of land, which provides an exceptional outdoor recreation experience, is in danger of being compromised by proposed windfarms, such as the Stronelairg and Allt Duine proposals, located close to the Park's western boundary.'
'Surely nobody with any sensitivity towards our landscape can support the erection of 443ft wind turbines in such a view, turning one of the UK's finest wild landscapes into an industrial site?'
The organisation sets out three priorities to consider in terms of protecting Scotland's wild land:
- The western boundary of the Cairngorms National Park should be extended across the Monadhliaths until it is close to Fort Augustus, and all windfarm applications within this area should be rejected, in their entirety. At the same time consideration needs to be given to promoting the Cairngorms National Park as a potential World Heritage Site, for designation under the World Heritage Convention as an outstanding area of worldwide significance for its cultural and natural values. The Cairngorms was proposed for such an accolade as long ago as 1981 but successive UK and Scottish Governments have done little to advance the case in the last 30 years.
- If a new environmental designation designed to protect wild land is not agreed at present, we should consider whether wild land protection needs can be built into planning policies as a whole, as well as into the financial incentives which underpin much of what happens on the land, especially in support of agriculture and forestry. We need to gain a widespread acceptance and understanding that wild land is present everywhere, with different degrees of "wildness" or "wilderness" quality, from the green spaces in our cities to the tops of the mountains. In this way we have a basis for building criteria into our existing planning and financial mechanisms to protect wild land and its enjoyment.
- To address public concerns about the scale of windfarm development in Scotland, the subsidy regime (the Renewables Obligation) should be scrapped for large scale onshore windfarm development. Any energy subsidies should instead be directed towards the support of small scale farmer/crofter/community turbine developments and large offshore windfarm development.