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Anger over map of wild land that makes crofters 'invisible'

People such as crofters, who for generations have worked the land in remote and rural landscapes, are "rendered invisible " by Scottish Natural Heritage in its mapping of wild land, it has been claimed.

WILD AREA? Most crofts are  in the Highlands and islands.
WILD AREA? Most crofts are in the Highlands and islands.

The hard-hitting criticism comes not from an outspoken politician but from another public body, the Crofting Commission, six of whose nine commissioners are crofters directly elected by their peers.

The Commission, which regulates the unique system of land tenure, warns that designating certain areas with Wild Land status would be divisive.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) put out the Core Wild Land 2013 Map for consultation last year and it sets out 43 areas of remote and often challenging terrain. The majority are in the Highlands and islands, many in crofting areas.

The map is designed to inform planners and political decision makers about which areas are considered the most environmentally valued and important.

SNH stresses it would not constitute an environmental designation but be a strategic tool for use in planning policy.

However, the Crofting Commission disagrees. Its response is based on the assumption that "the purpose of establishing a map based 'Wild Land' status is to create a designation status against physical structural development in these identified areas for the protection of the experience of a quality of 'wildness'."

The Commission challenges the very essence of the concept of wildness. It says: "Having established that some areas of land appear to be 'natural, uncultivated, desolate or inhospitable', it is then assumed such a quality is desirable, without any explanation of how it has been established that such a quality is felt to be desirable, and by whom."

The Commission says the Wild Land concept takes as a basic assumption that all evidence of human activity is felt to be undesirable, and proceeds from that viewpoint. It continues: "The Crofting Commission is concerned the Wild Land map and the assumptions that underpin its production, seek, through both the production of the map, and the wording of the consult­ation paper, to render invisible the people who have managed that land for many generations and who continue to manage it in the present and for the future."

The Commission is concerned that, in the process, conservation charities such as RSPB Scotland and the John Muir Trust might become involved in crofting affairs.

It recommends that as a way forward SNH explores the concept of 'Duthchas' - "a Gaelic word that describes man's relationship with and love and knowledge of an area, its landscape, soil, natural environment and everything it contains".

An SNH spokesman said the Scottish Government had asked the agency to map wild land areas because of the high value placed on wildness and to help take account of it in developing national planning policies.

He continued: "We are fully aware Scotland's wilder landscapes are not empty of human activities or influence. Nevertheless, had we ignored the fact that many areas have wild land character, regardless of the historic reasons for that, we would have failed in our duty.

"The recent consultation was to get people's views on the map. With more than 400 responses it can be argued this objective has been achieved. We will now use the responses to prepare our advice to ministers."

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