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Conservationists welcome wild land map amid crofting concerns

THE final version of a map of Scotland's wildest land has been welcomed by conservationists but will continue to be controversial in some crofting areas.

The map, which supports the Government's new planning policy framework, was produced by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to identify the most extensive areas of the highest wildness.

It is supposed to help the planning process ensure there is no inappropriate development, such as large wind farms, in the areas identified.

It was prepared after a seven-week public consultation on a draft map at the end of last year.

As a result the number of wildland areas was reduced from 43 covering around 20 per cent of the country to 42 areas covering around 19.5 per cent.

The main changes are that one area in Perthshire is removed, as is one in the Borders. A stretch in Monadhliath Mountains is reduced following the decision by the Scottish Government to approve the 67-turbine Stronelairg wind farm nearby.

Ian Jardine, SNH chief executive, said: "One of our roles is to work with planners and developers to help get the right development in the right place.

"We do this by providing advice on nature and landscape. This new map helps to do this by identifying which are the key areas of wild land." The map has been largely welcomed by conservationists and recreational groups, with some qualifications. The wild land charity the John Muir Trust hailed it as "a historic breakthrough" in its campaign to have Scotland's wild land recognised and protected.

But there has been deep concern in some crofting areas about the draft map, not least on South Uist where it was feared attempts to reverse depopulation could be undermined. But the area of wild land on the island remains unchanged. The regulatory body the Crofting Commission had said that people like crofters, who had worked Scotland's remote rural landscapes for generations, were "rendered invisible " by the draft map.

The Western Isles Council had also expressed its concerns local control over development would be lost. A spokesman responded to the final map saying there was disappointment that the national planning policy framework still insisted on development plans having to safeguard the areas of wild land as identified in this map.

Huw Francis, chief executive of Stòras Uibhist, the community landowner of South Uist Estate, said "There was consultation but our submission has been ignored. We detailed serious concerns as to how it would affect South Uist, but to no avail." Local MSP Rob Gibson questioned why Garvey Island off Cape Wrath, which is used as a bombing range in military exercises, should be included.

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