“Wild land” threat to economic future of Southern Isles

Plans to protect areas of wild land against future development could jeopardise the economic future of the Southern Isles, according to South Uist’s community landowners.

Stòras Uibhist have outlined their concerns to Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead in response to the publication of a map which revealed the extent of the wild land designations currently subject to a consultation led by Scottish Natural Heritage.

In a strongly-worded letter to Mr Lochhead, Stòras chief executive Huw Francis said the inclusion of a large part of South Uist on the SNH map could have worrying consequences for islanders.

“If the ‘wild land’ designation is introduced in the way that has been suggested there will be a serious impact on the ability of this community to regenerate the local economy and reverse population decline,” Mr Francis said.

“The so-called ‘wild land’ of South Uist has been occupied, managed, altered, built on and farmed by island residents for thousands of years. Calling it an untouched wilderness disparages the long history of island living and imposes a romanticised and erroneous external construct on this community that will perpetuate the decline of the island economy.”

He continued: “Stòras Uibhist has multiplied the value of this estate many times since 2006 and secured over £24 million of grant funding and commercial finance to invest locally and transform the economy of these islands for the benefit of the people who live and work here. These projects would not have progressed without the vision of this community and would have been unlikely to have secured planning consent if the wild land proposal had already been implemented to its fullest extent.

“This community has no intention of destroying the environment of the Uists that their forebears created through hard work. However, the imposition of more environmental designations on these islands will remove the opportunity for this community to continue managing their land in a sustainable and evolving manner, as they have done for generations.”

SNH say the map will not change the Scottish Government’s policy of safeguarding areas of wild land character, but instead will “provide an indication of where the key areas of wild land are”.

The consultation runs until 20th December and will feed into the Scottish Government’s national planning framework.

keith.mackenzie@whfp.co.uk