RURAL communities are being “airbrushed” out of Scotland’s rugged landscapes by policymakers who care more about maintaining an artificial wilderness, it has been claimed.

Campaigners said long-standing conservation models are marginalising locals and preventing them from participating in decisions about the areas they live in.

A new report co-written by Community Land Scotland (CLS) – which previously called for the regeneration of townships destroyed by the Highland Clearances – calls for “an institutional culture change” to address the problem.

Dr Calum MacLeod, director of CLS, which represents Scotland’s community landowners, said: “Much of the public policy around the myth of so-called ‘wild’ land has airbrushed the community dimension out of many of Scotland’s rural landscapes.”

He added: “It’s time to acknowledge that these landscapes were never ‘wild’ and instead look to ways in which repopulation and environmental sustainability can work together for the economic development of rural Scotland.”

The new report, which was co-written with the Institute for Heritage and Sustainable Human Development, takes aim at Scotland's conservation policies.

It argues current models single out “special” landscapes for protection, while ignoring communities and shutting them out of decisions.

Researchers were responding to concerns about the “potential for landscape conservation policies to act as a barrier to rural renewal and to efforts to address the depopulation of Scotland’s sparsely-populated areas”.

Author Dr Chris Dalglish said: “Generally speaking, people are excluded when it comes to deciding what matters about Scotland’s landscapes and to making decisions about the conservation of those landscapes.

“There is an apparent lack of recognition for community voices in this context. The current way of doing things is designed to serve institutional needs.”

CLS previously called on the Scottish Government to create a map of “no-longer-existing communities” in order to highlight long-gone townships – and earmark them for potential future use.

It argued the Highlands’ famously sparse rural landscape was “socially constructed” through historic depopulation.

Professor Sir Tom Devine, one of Scotland’s top historians, said the plans were “an interesting idea” but warned repopulating lost villages would be an expensive process.