People Power Enlisted in Hill Tracks Fight

Nine environmental organisations are today launching a campaign aimed at protecting the Scottish countryside from unregulated hill track construction. Anyone with a camera can help.

A new track near Foinaven - prime wild land now made slightly less wild, 155 kb
A new track near Foinaven - prime wild land now made slightly less wild
© Dan Bailey

'Hill tracks are some of the most visible and damaging developments in rural Scotland' say the campaigners. 'They are often crudely bulldozed through highly sensitive environments, doing irreparable harm to landscapes, soils and biodiversity, and contributing to the rapid loss of land unaffected by visual intrusion'

The organisations, which range from the National Trust for Scotland to the John Muir Trust, are calling on members of the public to take photos of poorly designed or constructed tracks while they are out enjoying the hills this summer. These photographs will be used as evidence to try to persuade the Scottish Government to bring construction of tracks within the planning system for the first time. Currently hill tracks enjoy Permitted Development status, and landowners can effectively bulldoze private roads through more or less any wild land they like. Campaigners say the proliferation of hill tracks is permanently scarring the hills, but the Scottish Government has done nothing about the issue.

The campaigning organisations have worked hard in recent years to prevent more wild land in Scotland being lost to unregulated tracks. Perhaps learning from a recent setback to the fight, when the Scottish Government decided to allow the current planning free-for-all to continue despite accepting 'compelling evidence' of the damage tracks can cause (see UKH here), the organisations have now joined forces under the umbrella of Scottish Environment LINK. They are: Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, the Cairngorms Campaign, the John Muir Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, the North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Scottish Wild Land Group.

There is now, say campaigners, a brief window of opportunity to persuade the Government to change its mind. They are hoping to harness people power to their cause.

Your photos can be sent to the campaign here.

Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland and co-convener of the campaign group said:

'We are calling on the public to help us persuade the government to protect our landscapes and wildlife from the uncontrolled spread of these damaging hill tracks. Sending us photos of hill tracks will help us build up a portfolio to present to the Planning Minister demonstrating how important and widespread this problem is.'

Beryl Leatherland of the Scottish Wild Land Group, also co-convener of campaign group added:

'Hill tracks can serve legitimate purposes, and if landowners and managers had to apply for planning permission and carry out a proper environmental assessment, they would finally come under a level of local authority and public scrutiny. This would help ensure that their visual impact was limited, and that, if approved, they would be constructed to a standard that would minimise environmental damage such as erosion, peat deterioration and drainage problems.'

'Our organisations have campaigned on this issue for many years, but the Scottish Government recently dropped its proposal to bring hill tracks with purported "agricultural or forestry purposes" into the planning system. Such tracks continue to enjoy Permitted Development Rights that exempt them from planning laws and put the landscape at risk through lack of regulation. Even large tracts of our National Parks are without protection from crudely bulldozed tracks. We believe that the Scottish Government must act to improve protection of the landscape.'

While it's not a member of LINK, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland supports its efforts, and has been running its own campaign against hill tracks for some time. The MCofS has called on members to support the LINK campaign by sending in their photos.

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