Organisations and the public are being asked to comment on the official map of Scotland’s 'Core Areas of Wild Land'. The survey, which delineates the wildest bits of the country from Galloway to the Northern isles, may inform future planning policy - which is why it matters.
The map, published back in April (see UKH news here), is a result of work by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to advise the Scottish Government and others on the extent and location of the wild land 'resource' in Scotland.
Andrew Bachell, SNH director of operations, said:
'Scotland has a world-wide reputation as a beautiful and impressive country. The wildness people can experience and the images of wild places are an incredibly valuable asset which makes an important contribution to our tourism industry. Wild land makes a crucial contribution to our quality of life and we know that most people who live in Scotland consider wild places to be important to them. Wild land areas are also valuable to nature and are often home to some of our most remarkable wildlife.'
'The map is the result of a systematic and robust study that we carried out and we’re keen to hear what others think. We hope that the map will help government, local authorities and developers to take account of wild land in decisions about land use and development.'
Wildness as defined by SNH is a 'quality experienced by people when visiting places of a certain character'. They recognise that measuring it is inherently difficult since people respond subjectively to any given place, so for the purposes of the exercise SNH decided that wildness depended on the level of four quantifiable attributes, things that can be measured and mapped from a desk:
- The perceived naturalness of the land cover
- The ruggedness of the terrain which is therefore challenging to cross
- Remoteness from public roads or ferries
- The visible lack of buildings, roads, pylons and other modern artefacts
These four layers were combined to produce a map of relative wildness of Scotland.
Stuart Brooks, chief executive of wild land conservation charity the John Muir Trust, defended the map and called on people to comment:
'If you care about Scotland’s wild land and believe it needs protecting, then please help us convince the Scottish Government to stand firm against those who are intent on destroying it for profit' he said today.
'This Core Wild Land Map is the product of many years of in-depth analysis by a range of experts who have no financial stake or vested interests to pursue. With that map now under attack, we need those who know our wild land best to rally round to defend it.'
Though conservation groups have cautiously welcomed the map, concerns have been voiced about how it might be interpreted in future planning policy.
Even SNH acknowledge that the concept of core wild areas necessarily implies adjacent less-wild areas, and indeed on the map the core areas appear as a series of islands with even closely neighbouring zones being separated by strips of non-designated land. If all the landscapde conservation eggs end up in the 'core' basket, critics have asked, then might intervening areas be less well protected in future? The use of zones on the map as it stands is entirely binary, with areas rated either as 'core' or as nothing at all. This makes no allowances for the subtle gradation on the ground from wildest to least wild, and excludes many significant areas of high landscape quality that may be slightly less than 'core wild' but are still far from tame or expendable in the eyes of many. Some worry too that the nature of the survey as it stands makes no allowance for buffer zones between core and undesignated land; yet without a planning policy that includes such buffers developments such as wind farms could conceivably be built on the boundary of core wild land.
In addition, significant areas to which all the above wildness criteria might arguably apply have been omitted, say critics - from south Harris and the empty interior of north Lewis to the northern half of Rum and tiny St Kilda.
Details of the consultation can be found here.
The consultation runs until 20 December 2013, after which SNH will review all the comments received and prepare further advice to Scottish Ministers on the map, including any proposed changes.