Huge Support Gathering to Call for Greater Control Over Damaging Hill Tracks

1 April 2010

Huge support is gathering for the campaign to control hill tracks that are damaging Scotland’s Mountains.

Over 1,400 have signed so far, which is unusually high for such e-petitions supporting a Motion in the Scottish Parliament.

The petition was started in response to the concerns regularly expressed to the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) and other organisations.

It was launched by Labour MSPs Sarah Boyack and Peter Peacock, and has cross-party support.

With the rapidly growing sign-up, it is hoped that the issue of greater control of bulldozing of unregulated tracks is debated soon in the Scottish Parliament as the issue becomes difficult to ignore any longer.

Hill tracks are constructed for the purposes of easing vehicular traffic in upland areas of the Scottish countryside.

Currently, their construction does not require planning permission as long as the tracks are claimed, but not evidenced, to be constructed for land management purposes such as agriculture and forestry.

There is grave concern about the increasing number intruding into wild landscape and damaging the environment.

There are no restrictions of hill track constructions at different altitudes, no clear definition of maintenance such as the widening to change the use from footpaths, no baseline map against which to assess claimed repair as opposed to construction and no penalties if the regulations are not followed.

Hebe Carus, the Access & Conservation Officer for MCofS said: "Tracks are regularly reported to us that are completely unknown to the planning system, local authorities or Scottish Natural Heritage, that are the Government advisers on natural heritage matters.

"Some are right up to the boundaries of National Scenic Areas (NSA), and recently even inside NSAs and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

"In NSAs and SSSIs there is supposed to be some control but this is often not followed or enforced; let alone areas of high wildness value that are not designated.

"The wildness of these areas are being lost to Scotland forever as it is virtually unknown for the damage to be reversed. It is essential the planning system brings this proliferation under some sort of control."

Sarah Boyack, Labour's Shadow Minister for the Environment, said, "We need to protect our natural heritage and environment by urgently addressing the construction, regulation and control of hill tracks within the uplands of Scotland.

"The anticipated date for reviewing permitted development rights in relation to non-household development has slipped again and again.

"It now appears that a parliamentary review of regulation of permitted development rights in relation to the construction of hill tracks will not take place anytime soon, so we need to urge the Scottish government to act sooner.

"Many of my constituents, who enjoy the wild land and sense of wilderness you can get from walking and climbing, are having that sense diminished by the development of new hill tracks.

"I hope a demonstration of concern by people across Scotland will help persuade the government to move more quickly to review a tightening of the regulations."

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock first took up the issue after receiving complaints from constituents about the impact of a hill road constructed on the north slopes of Beinn Bhuraich above Loch Mor in the Monadhliath Mountains, but many other examples have been reported through other channels.

While accepting that farmers and crofters have a legitimate need to construct, maintain and develop tracks constructed in lower lying land for their purposes of land management, the MSP saw that a problem had developed through the lack of regulation of hill tracks.

He explained, "This has allowed increased development and use of these tracks within the uplands for vehicular use which could have harmful impacts on the landscape and consequently on flora and fauna.

"Hill walkers and mountaineers have become increasingly aware that erosion, poor design and overuse of hill tracks have caused further damage to our countryside.

"Our natural environment will continue to suffer under the lack of regulation of hill tracks unless this issue is addressed as soon as possible."

Mr Peacock said he had recently discussed the issue with Landowner groups who had readily admitted that not all tracks are well constructed.

He concluded, "We now have enough cross party support in Parliament for a debate to be held and we hope that a time might be allocated for this before the summer recess.

"While we welcome the Cairngorm National Park initiative to gauge the importance of wildness to members of the public, which itself indicates that there is a widespread belief the issue is real and important to tackle, we believe there is a need for greater formal controls."

The campaign is supported by a range of other organisations, including the John Muir Trust, Scottish Wild Land Group SWLG) and North East Mountain Trust.

Mike Daniels, Chief Scientific Officer, John Muir Trust, commented, "The John Muir Trust wholeheartedly supports this campaign.

"Uncontrolled and badly constructed tracks leave a deep scar on the landscape. They are one of the biggest threats to the country’s wild land."

The Petition can be read and signed here >>>

It calls on the Scottish Government to implement greater controls over the development of vehicle tracks in mountainous areas, and to protect our wild landscapes for future generations.

Calum Brown, member of the SWLG Steering Team also urged people to sign the petition.

Writing in the latest edition of Wild Land News, Mr Brown said:

"We are all familiar with the sight of bulldozed tracks driven into remote glens or mountainsides with little regard for their impact on the landscape or environment.

"Unregulated under current planning law, such tracks are highly visible and have contributed to the rapid loss, between 2002 and 2008, of one quarter of the land in Scotland classed as ‘visually unaffected by development’.

"If we want to save our remaining unspoiled views, urgent action is needed to pressurise government into changing planning regulations."

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