|Wild Land: Bidean nam Bian, Glencoe|
June 24, 2014, was a landmark day for wild land in Scotland, possibly. Scottish Natural Heritage, the government body charged with looking after the environment, issued their latest map of wild land areas and the Scottish Government itself issued a new Scottish Planning Policy and Scotland’s Third National Planning Framework. Unsurprisingly the wild land map received much publicity. Maps are always interesting to look at and you can quickly see what they show. However, welcome though it is, the wild land map is far less important than the much more boring policy and framework documents. The map, after all, is just a map. As SNH are careful to point out the wild land areas it shows are ‘not a statutory designation’. They are described as ‘nationally important in Scottish Planning Policy’ but that doesn’t actually mean anything concrete regarding what happens to them.
Headlines on the 24th proclaimed that wind farms had been banned in national parks and national scenic areas. The word ‘banned’ doesn’t appear in the government literature though. Moving on from headlines and the wild land map I’ve been reading through the planning documents to see just what they do say about wild land. I’ve been looking both for intentions and firm commitments. Most of the stuff isn’t about wild land of course – planning covers everything everywhere – but there are some significant passages amongst the mixture of fine words and jargon (actually for government documents these aren’t as wooden and dense as many I’ve read – I didn’t feel the need to clean my mind and read something well written after reading them).
|No Longer Wild Land: A Wind Farm In The Southern Uplands|
That word ‘banned’ in the headlines is based on a section of the Planning Policy which states “Areas where wind farms will not be acceptable: National Parks and National Scenic Areas”. I guess that’s close enough. It’s also highly significant as the 40 NSA’s and the 2 National Parks cover 13% of Scotland, including the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye, Ben Nevis and Glencoe (see map here). This is further emphasised in the Planning Framework which says ‘we do not wish to see wind farm development in National Parks and National Scenic Areas’. I think it’ll be hard to justify wind farms in these areas now and I hope that developers won’t even bother proposing them.
This 13% isn’t everywhere on the wild land map though, which covers 19% of Scotland, and the wild land map omits some areas I, and others, would argue are worthy of protection (Trotternish on the Isle of Skye was the first place I noticed). In those wild areas outside the 13% ‘wind farms may be appropriate in some circumstances’ if ‘any significant effects on the qualities of these areas can be substantially overcome by siting, design or other mitigation’. I can see this leading to some tough battles up ahead. One argument will be over ‘landscape and visual impacts, including effects on wild land’, which the policy says should be taken into account. I know from the Allt Duine wind farm debate that developers will always say there are no visual impacts even when there clearly are. However later on the policy says ‘Wild land character is displayed in some of Scotland’s remoter upland, mountain and coastal areas, which are very sensitive to any form of intrusive human activity and have little or no capacity to accept new development. Plans should identify and safeguard the character of areas of wild land as identified on the 2014 SNH map of wild land areas’. This is an important and welcome statement. I expect it will be quoted much in the future. Unfortunately it is qualified by another paragraph: ‘In areas of wild land, development may be appropriate in some circumstances. Further consideration will be required to demonstrate that any significant effects on the qualities of these areas can be substantially overcome by siting, design or other mitigation.’ Just what ‘significant effects’ are remains to be seen. Apart from wind farms I would argue that bulldozed roads and fences come under that heading and there should be no more on wild land. In the Planning Framework it says ‘we also want to continue our strong protection for our wildest landscapes – wild land is a nationally important asset’. The last half of that sentence is another to be remembered and quoted, the first half rather begs the question as to how there have been wind farms and bulldozed roads on wild land if there is already strong protection.
Having read and considered the documents I am cautiously optimistic about the future of wild land in Scotland and I’m happy to praise the Scottish government for the positive statements about wild land. I think they have listened to what many of us have been saying. There will be threats and, I’m sure, losses in the future but hopefully this means much wild land will now be protected. And not just from wind farms. We mustn’t forget bulldozed roads, fences, over-grazing, hydro schemes and other developments. I am quietly celebrating though. I think those of us who love wild land and understand its importance to everyone have made some progress. I raise my glass (malt whisky of course). Here’s to wild land.