“End the scarring of Scoltand’s hills with hunting tracks” urges Green MSP

Green MSP, Andy Wightman has tabled an amendment to a planning bill in an attempt to end a long-term dispute over the creation of hunting tracks in Scotland without the need of planning permission.

Hunting tracks, also known as “hilltracks” have been a part of the Scottish landscape for centuries but have – with the dawn of modern construction machinery – become increasingly prevalent and destructive to wilderness in Scotland.

Scottish Environment LINK, a charity dedicated to being the “voice of Scotland’s environment community” condemn the Hilltracks as “poorly constructed” and the “cause [of] landscape and environmental damage”.

Scottish Environment LINK alongside Ramblers Scotland, RSPB, the National Trust for Scotland and Mountaineering Scotland are campaigning for such tracks to need planning permission before construction.

In a September 2018 report on the matter, Scottish Environment LINK focused on a number of issues that current planning laws concerning hunting tracks failed to address. The main points being:

  • Off-road constructed vehicle tracks (often referred to as “hilltracks”) can ease access for land management purposes but can also have major visual and environmental impacts, particularly on the wilder landscapes for which Scotland is so highly-regarded.
  • Poorly-sited and constructed tracks have been a concern to conservation organisations and outdoor enthusiasts for many years. This is reflected in decades of campaigning, culminating in the publication by Scottish Environment LINK in 2013 of a major report “Track Changes”.
  • Hilltracks continue to be built and the cumulative impact of constructed tracks on our landscapes is increasing given the number of tracks that are also now being built in connection with hydro power schemes, wind farms and other developments.
  • For historic reasons, tracks built for agricultural or forestry purposes have benefitted from Permitted Development Rights and this continues to be the case, in spite of the advent of heavy machinery and its capability to re-engineer hillsides and important landforms. This has left the countryside vulnerable to significant damage in the absence of tighter planning control.

In his amendment, MSP Andy Wightman echoes LINK’s points noting that the “[damage] large swathes of our natural scenic landscape” due to a lack of regulation needed to be corrected.

Specifically, Wightman’s amendment calls for full planning consent for tracks in national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, designated battlefield sites, National Scenic Areas and on all land used for field sports (hunting).




New Labour Party report proposes Right to Roam policy for whole of United Kingdom

The Labour Party has published a new report rethinking land matters in the United Kingdom. As part of their self-proclaimed “radical” proposals, the report supports adopting the Scottish policy of Right to Roam for the entirety of the United Kingdom.

In response to health crises and to enhance “our sense of belonging” the report proposes “that rest of the UK adopts the Scottish principle of a Right to Roam across all uncultivated land and water, excluding gardens and other exceptions.”

Such a policy would redefine land ownership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and open up vast swathes of land for public use.

The proposals take further inspiration from the Scottish system in calling for bodies modelled on the Scottish Land Commission to be established in the rest of the United Kingdom. These bodies would address issues relating to land ownership via research and in the proposal of new policies.

Ramblers CEO, Vanessa Griffiths approved of the report noting the importance of “contact with nature” for health. Griffiths also praised the reports aim of opening the countryside up “so that it is of the benefit of the many, not the few.”

In another policy area that the Ramblers Association has campaigned on in recent years, the report encourages the repeal of legislation “limiting the protection of footpaths and bridleways.”

Suggesting that the current protections for historic footpaths and rights of way are wanting, the report focuses on the managed neglect of landowners allowing public rights of way to fall into disuse and the end of registering rights of way by 2026.

Concluding comments on public rights of way, the report proposes that we “learn from the largely forgotten history of land reform in the UK” in order to inspire a “21st-century land reform movement.”

Mismanagement, over grazing and climate change threatens rare Scotland rainforest

A new report published by the Atlantic Woodland Alliance lays out the dangers facing Scotland’s delicate rainforest habitat. Also known as Atlantic Woodland or Celtic Rainforest, the unique habitat is home to rare lichens, mosses and fungi of which some cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

In Scotland, only 30,325 hectares of the rainforest (which once covered the coastline of Europe) survives. The Atlantic Woodland Alliance’s report suggests that with current efforts the forests are showing no signs of regeneration.

Overgrazing from wild game and livestock in the forests is such that re-growth is not currently possible. Additionally, the invasive species of plant (Rhododendron), which is found in 40% of rainforest sites, “threatens to choke the woodlands and prevent the distinctive rainforest flora from surviving.”

The Alliance also suggests that mismanagement of tree felling, dead wood removal and the coppicing (cutting back to ground level) of hazel woods has further contributed to the delicate state of Atlantic Woodland in Scotland.

Failure to “improve the protection of rainforest from grazing and invasives” is also highlighted in the report as an area in which stewardship of the forest could be better managed.

But the report emphasises that the forest can still be saved. Planting “a strip of only 50 metres of new woods around existing woodland, through a judicious mix of natural regeneration and planting, would create another 21,000 hectares [and] A 100-metre strip would almost double the area of rainforest we have.”

The Atlantic Woodland Alliance’s report notes that its ambitious project to revitalise and grow Scotland’s rainforest will be dependent upon continuing to demonstrate how “our rainforests can be better managed” and to work with others to raise awareness and change attitudes to one of Scotland’s most rare habitats.