Where I live, we look out onto hills that once were volcanoes. You don’t get much older or wilder than that. Dense woodlands creep up their flanks, and mewing buzzards and the occasional red kite whirl overhead. By day, cattle can be heard lowing, sheep baaing and horses cantering over the turf. By night, creatures of the dark emerge – foxes, badgers and owls. It sounds like a definition of the countryside idyll, and in many ways it is.

But while there are no high-rise buildings in sight, do not be fooled into thinking this is a natural landscape. The woods are closely managed, and the farm animals are accounted for on spreadsheets. Come sowing season and harvest, the place erupts into industrial activity. Massive machines work the fields, and the road outside our house growls 24/7 with tractors to rival Jeremy Clarkson’s Lamborghini, which was so ridiculously big he needed to build a new barn to house it.

Scotland is famed for its untouched wilderness, but as environmental campaigner Chris Packham says, much of this is an illusion. As he recently told The Herald, “There’s a misconception among those who mainly live in urban areas that if a wilderness doesn’t have anything made of concrete on it then it must be natural, unspoilt habitat.

“The truth is, though, that much of what they’re seeing is a highly modified landscape, where all the trees have been cut down and it’s been grievously over-grazed. This isn’t a landscape; it’s a manscape.”

He also railed against the shockingly high number of birds of prey, such as golden eagles, being killed: “The agencies which have a vested interest in this wickedness, such as the Countryside Alliance, the Moorland Association and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association all deny that this is a serious issue, but it’s wilful blindness on their part.”

Miles of barren-looking heathland and scree, in which game birds and deer thrive and shooting parties can blaze away, are the environmental equivalent of a buzz-cut. On some estates, the now-reviled system of annually burning heather continues. While fresh growth quickly returns after fire, there is nothing natural or defensible about this scorched earth policy, which devastates the habitat on which thousands of creatures depend. Barely a square mile of rural Scotland has not been in some way shaped by people for their own ends. Whether it’s the distinctive layout of crofting communities, with their patchwork of rigs and open grazing, or the prairie-style acres of wheatfields in East Lothian and the Borders, almost everywhere we look bears the imprint of human activity.

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Countryside is the word that defines green spaces that are not covered in buildings but, with only rare exceptions, we are dreamers if we think there’s much of our original natural landscape left. Even in seemingly remote spots - at the top of a vertiginous peak, say - there’ll be a pylon or wind turbines within sight, the glimpse of cars on a far-distant road, or a plane’s vapour trail evaporating overhead. All are reminders that what we seek when we talk about the wild is a very tame version of what once was under our feet.

The ongoing persecution of raptors and other predators that threaten farms and sporting estates is an echo of the slaughter in past centuries of species that were hunted to extinction: bears, wolves, beavers, to name only a few. To feed the market among the rich for furs for coats, hats and gloves, these animals were wiped out wholesale. When it comes to wildlife, we have a long tradition of killing first and thinking later. That such behaviour continues to this day is shameful but not surprising.

Although we might prefer to overlook this fact, the countryside has been moulded by the interests of the rich and the powerful. Their influence lies all around. Where I live was once part of the massive Ettrick Forest - a remnant of the great Caledonian Forest - which stretched from Selkirkshire to Peebles and the fringe of Edinburgh. It was James V who, by introducing sheep, initiated its gradual destruction. Within a few years of flocks nibbling saplings, the ecological diversity of the forest had greatly diminished. This meant that - to the annoyance of the nobles and royals who had hoped for a good day’s hunting - they often returned home empty-handed.

James V’s impact on the environment could perhaps be seen as a precursor of the Highland Clearances, where people were moved off the land to make way for sheep. Elsewhere, the introduction by landowners of new ways of farming in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the enclosure of large tracts of land, also led to people being forced to move, heading to cities for work. These days, the sight of tumbledown sheep fanks, or the stumps of cottages where smallholders once lived, brings that past vividly into the present. Today, it is sheep and cattle that are being cleared off hill-top grazing, to be replaced by trees, whose time has come again. And so the cycle will continue, humankind endlessly adapting, tinkering or entirely remodelling the land and environment to service its needs.

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Not everything that has a deleterious impact on nature is visible, but that doesn’t make it any less destructive. Dredging the ocean for fish or shellfish ruins entire ecosystems. Then there are salmon farms. I have no doubt that in years to come people will recall these massive ventures, which impact heavily on the waters around them, and shake their heads in disbelief.

According to food scientist Tim Spector, for instance, plans for Scotland to build the largest fish farm in the world would result in more toxic and faecal waste being produced than is currently excreted by Glasgow’s 600,000 citizens. Great for the profits of big business, not so good for marine wildlife, you’d imagine, nor for swimmers and surfers.

As always, it is those with deep pockets and political influence who are allowed to reshape our world. By so doing, they insidiously alter the landscape until it would be unrecognisable to anyone from centuries past. As for wilderness, Chris Packham believes that, if rewilded, Glencoe could become “the Yellowstone of the UK”. It’s a nice idea. I suspect, however, that what wilderness really mean to most of us is simply somewhere so remote it takes several hours to reach from Glasgow.