SCOTLAND's heritage charity fears Scotland's precious landscape is at greater risk from wind farms and other renewable energy developments - following changes to government planning policy.

The National Trust for Scotland has called for wild land to be better protected - fearing that changes to planning policy are set to hit some of Scotland's most beautiful areas.

The charity’s call to action follows a revision of the Scottish Government’s planning policy, and a new policy statement on onshore wind development which says that proposals for renewable energy developments must consider “landscape and visual impacts, including effects on wild land”.

But the National Trust says that which would not prevent wind farms being developed on them.

It says that stands in contrast to protections with policies in Scotland’s National Parks and National Scenic Areas, that proposals for wind farms should not be supported.

The NTS said that while it recognised the need to develop renewable energy in response to the climate crisis and rising energy prices - it should "not be at the expense of the multiple benefits wild land provides, including carbon storage".

It says that to ensure that wild land areas remain intact and largely unspoilt by manmade infrastructure, there should presumption against wind farm developments to be extended to these areas of remote wildness.

Scotland is renowned the world over for its wild and spectacular scenery of mountains, moorlands, lochs and rivers and coasts, a draw to locals and visitors alike.

The Scottish Wild Land Group has also raised its concerns about the draft fourth National Planning Framework saying: "The lack of consideration of landscapes is a major omission".

Its latest analysis of the state of the landscape in the Highlands shows that this is in long-term decline because of the continuing pressure for development.

HeraldScotland:

The research team used a sample of four Wild Land Areas in the Highlands to analyse in detail the landscape changes which have occurred from the 1750s to the present day.

One WLA had a developed area of 89% in 2020 compared to 62% in 1747 and 81% in the 1980s.

The developed area had grown by just over 18 square miles from 175 square miles in the 1990s to 193 square miles in 2020.

Philip Long, chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, said: “The Trust welcomes the Scottish Government’s attention to the nature and climate emergencies and its previous commitment to protecting wild land, but it is now more imperative than ever that efforts to conserve and protect our wild land are given priority.

"Government policies such as the National Planning Framework 4 and the Onshore Wind Energy Statement should work to support rather than undermine these efforts "We recognise the need to develop sources of renewable energy, but these shouldn’t be to the detriment of our natural assets. The most recent IPCC report highlighted how important protecting land for nature will be in mitigating the effects of climate change, so the importance of these areas should not be underestimated."

The NTS is further concerned that a 2017 Onshore Wind Energy Statement commits the Scottish Government to protecting wild land saying: “We will pursue this partnership approach in a way which is compatible with Scotland’s magnificent landscapes, including our areas of wild land.”

Bu the 2022 draft Onshore Energy Wind Statement now omits any mention of wild land.

“Wild land areas are where nature and natural processes predominate, and where humans can enjoy the qualities of tranquillity and beauty. They are also key for meeting our biodiversity and climate change ambitions," added Mr Long.

"As one of the country’s most prominent wild land custodians, we pioneered the development of the first NTS wild land policy published in 2002, with the Scottish Government’s own wild land map coming in 2014. Scotland is a world leader in recognising and seeking to protect the value of wild land which is a fundamental part of the identity of the nation and its appeal for tourists.”

In 2014 it emerged an unspoilt part of Scotland the size of Sutherland had been lost to development over four years.

The last mapping of wild land carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage, now NatureScot revealed a dramatic decline in the nation’s countryside, with building carried out on nearly 2000 square miles of unspoilt Scotland.

The developed area of Scotland rose from 65% (19,890 square miles) in 2008 to 71.4% (21,732 square miles) in 2012.

The SNH research also showed the proportion of Scottish land that could be counted as being “without visual influence of built development” has dropped by 31% over 10 years from 12,476 square miles in 2002 to 8,824 square miles in 2012.

In 2002 it was estimated 41% of Scotland was unspoilt by development. In 2012 it was 29%.

Conservation charity John Muir Trust failed in a court bid to block a wind farm on wild land five years ago.

The dispute was over a wind farm at Stronelairg, which is in wild land in the Monadhliath mountains near Loch Ness. Consisting of 67 wind turbines, it was proposed by SSE in 2012 and granted by the Scottish government in June 2014.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s planning system will play a vital role in responding to climate change, in encouraging nature recovery and in helping to deliver the infrastructure needed to achieve our net zero ambitions.

“National Planning Framework 4 will signal a turning point for planning and we have been clear that responding to both the global climate emergency and the nature crisis will be central to that. We are carefully considering the wealth of information and views expressed during our NPF4 consultation before we take a final version to the Scottish Parliament for approval this autumn.”