VAST areas of Scotland designated as wild land should be renamed "Clearances Country" so the sad history of the people driven from their homes is not forgotten, it has been claimed.

New research shows that many of the 42 areas identified by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) as "core wild land" were once the sites of communities which were cleared of their people largely in the 19th century to make way for sheep and sporting estates.

SNH was asked by ministers 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.

Its first draft map published in 2013 had 43 areas, mostly in the Highlands and Islands. But after consultation that was reduced to 42 areas covering 3.8 million acres.

However, in its submission Community Land Scotland (CLS), the umbrella organisation for community landlords such as Eigg and Knoydart, said the map "overlaps with many areas purposefully and shamefully cleared by past generations of landowners".

Rob Gibson, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, supported CLS's proposal for a map of the earlier settlements.

The SNP politician, who has written about the Highland Clearances, said he believes pressure to protect huge tracts of the Highlands and Islands is largely being driven by people, often living in towns and cities, who are against wind farms.

He said: "Alas in my view, clamour for 'wild land' protection is a response to a predominantly urban view of wildness focused on by a well-publicised anti-development lobby. This has led to a vocal minority railing loudly against wind turbine building."

He has matched a map of clearances sites which were identified over several editions of his book 'The Highland Clearances Trail', with SNH's wild land map.

He said there was a striking overlap.Although not a fully scientific exercise, he said it pointed to "the need for a map of settlements across rural Scotland that used to exist to see the places where human communities lived and thrived".

He added: "Today access to land is even more a key to rebuild fragile populations in harmony with the natural environment.

"Fencing off so-called wild land in the minds of people and planners is a disservice to the needs of a biodiverse Scotland and the human need for sustainable modern life in a climate change aware nation. This map suggests that the place of people in our landscape must not be erased."

SNH has defended its map, saying it recognised virtually all of Scotland had been influenced by human activity over time, but many areas continued to have strong qualities of wildness that were highly valued today.

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