The public consultation on the map detailing Scotland’s ‘core areas of wild land’, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, ended yesterday. For anyone concerned with conserving Scotland’s strategically important wild land assets, the map serves as a vital step in the process.
My response below is strongly supportive of the existence of the map, and SNH are to be commended on undertaking this bold move. It builds on my earlier observations on the debate unfolding across Scotland.
However, I also wanted to use my response to highlight some questions about how the map will be used in practice. Having a map is one thing (we all like maps !), but using it to effectively inform development applications in Scotland’s upland and mountainous areas is quite another. I would hate for it only to adorn the office walls of conservation organisations. While these aspects seemed to lie outwith the strict remit of this consultation, Scottish Ministers still need to answer questions about buffer zones and other matters relating to the use of the map in development applications and planning inquiries. I’m looking forward to hearing more about these practical issues as the issue unfolds.
I am strongly supportive of the Wild Land 2013 map and commend SNH for undertaking such an important and significant task.
Scotland can rightly lay claim to be at the forefront of international policy and practice in relation to spatial planning and wildlife conservation. In this context, Scotland should once again adopt a leadership role and in John Muir’s homeland it is entirely appropriate that we make a clear and unequivocal statement about the value we gain from wild land.
The consultation document correctly identifies that no true areas of wilderness exist in Scotland and that its areas of wild land are not devoid of human activities or influence. However, in a small island where the experience of wildness is liable to become less evident as development pressures increase, it is vitally important that we preserve the qualities of wildness that remain today. I think that the Wild Land map 2013 therefore serves as a watershed. It is a visual statement that should seek to afford a level of protection to those assets which still exist.
Experts and the general public alike agree that Scotland’s wild land assets are strategically significant in environmental, tourism and carbon management terms. Moreover, they are significant not only to Scotland but to the rest of the UK and Europe and I think we therefore have a responsibility to safeguard their character and environmental quality within this broader context for the future.
I regard the methodology used to produce the map as robust: logical, detailed and pragmatic. Any desk based research exercise simply produces a data-driven output; the real test is one of common sense. I am reassured that SNH staff have examined and validated the map and as a geographer and munroist with extensive knowledge of Scotland’s upland and mountain areas, I similarly agree that the map captures the essence of Scotland’s wild land.
As yet I am unclear as to how the map will or could be used to inform land use planning decisions.
The consultation document states that the NPF3 and draft SPP consultations focused on “the principle of affording protection to the core areas of wild land identified on the map”. Elsewhere (in para. 4.6) the document refers to the map being used as a “strategic tool”, highlighting the need for field survey work to consider individual proposals. This suggests to me that while there may well be a presumption against development within the core areas of wild land, no outright ban will be made and each development application will need to be considered on its merits. To what extent, therefore, can any additional protection be afforded in practice ?
It is also unclear how proposed developments on or near the boundaries of the core areas of wild land should be considered. I understand the point made that there is no ‘buffer’ within the individual core areas but that the periphery is intrinsic to the whole. However, this ignores the fact that proposed developments with high visual impacts (hydro schemes and wind farms, for example) outwith the core areas will impact on the experience of wildness within the core areas. In effect, there is still the need to consider the concept of a buffer relating to visual sight lines.
I would therefore welcome clarification on how the map could be used in practice. In particular, this must demonstrate that the wild land map affords a level of protection to the core areas that significantly exceeds that that exists at present.