Despite the Scottish Government making it clear it is not minded to designate areas of wild land or, for the time being, further regulate the development of hill roads across Scotland, a lobby calling for both remains.
An aspect of the campaign for greater regulation of Scotland's remote, upland areas is that it gives the impression these areas are unmanaged wildernesses and that there is nothing stopping landowners from developing them as they see fit. Neither is true.
Scotland's landscape has for many centuries been managed. Most of the uplands are managed in an extensive way, giving the impression of a natural, untouched landscape but it is just that: an impression of wildness. This is acknowledged in some of the criteria to develop Scottish Natural Heritage's (SNH's) strategic wild land maps. These include ruggedness, perceived naturalness, distance from roads and ferries and absence of manmade structures. None indicates the extent to which these areas are managed and altered by management. Indeed, SNH's Wild Land Policy Statement says "The appreciation of wildness is a matter of an individual's experience, and their perceptions of and preferences for landscapes of this kind. Wildness cannot be captured and measured, but it can be experienced and interpreted by people in many different ways." If it cannot be captured and measured, it would surely be almost impossible to create a formal designation.
The lack of a designation does not mean there is no value attached to the enjoyment people derive from being in such landscapes and that there is no protection of its qualities. Scottish Planning Policy states that "the most sensitive landscapes may have little or no capacity to accept new development and that planning authorities should safeguard the character of wild land areas in development plans". SNH's mapping tool helps it to do so.
Scottish Land & Estates believes this enables, at a local level, sufficient account to be taken of remote scenic landscapes without the need for the additional bureaucracy another designation would create. A similar situation exists in regard to hill roads. Scottish Environment LINK is running a campaign asking people to take pictures of badly constructed tracks. The impression many people will glean from this and previous campaigns is that landowners can do as they wish because such tracks do not require planning permission.
This is not the case. Planning permission is required for all developments. However, this is effectively pre-consented through permitted development rights for private road developments for agricultural and forestry purposes. Permitted development rights do not extend to other areas of land management where a full planning application is required.
Even for agricultural and forestry tracks, there are various circumstances which remove the permitted development right, such as where the land carries certain designations or where an environmental impact assessment is required. Most track developments still require authorisation under the relevant environmental and construction regulations; hardly a free-for-all.
Scottish Land & Estates believes these safeguards ensure a balance between protecting visual amenity and ensuring farmers and foresters are not overburdened in terms of creating safe and sensible access.
SNH has relaunched its excellent document Constructed Tracks in the Uplands. Anyone thinking of developing a private road should read this guidance. It takes the potential developer through the process stage-by-stage. It provides visual examples of good practice and practices to avoid. Scottish Land & Estates promotes this guidance to our members and we are speaking to other organisations about running training events. Given that all roads look raw for a while after construction, great care will be needed by those taking and submitting photographs to LINK's campaign to understand the landscaping work and how the road is likely to look in five or 10 years' time.
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