Warning that wild land areas could block development

BY MURRAY MACLEOD

Large swathes of the Highlands and Islands could become no-go areas for development through their designation as “wild land”, according to the body which represents community landlords.

Community Land Scotland pointed out that the areas covered by Scottish Natural Heritage’s proposals correlated with many of those affected by the Highland Clearances which once supported vibrant communities.

In their submission as part of the consultation on the “wild land” map, CLS called for recognition to be given to places that “should once again contain significant human population”. They said the only reason they were now devoid of human activity was “because of past actions by owners”.

“There is at least a danger that the creation of any form of official map of such areas, designating them as wild land, would be used and have the effect of preventing any re-population of land,” the CLS submission said.

“Before taking any further steps to have any draft map adopted in any formal way, it would be important to overlay any such map with the former human settlements contained within these areas.”

CLS chair David Cameron said the organisation was not against the mapping. However, he added: “It has to be very carefully looked at and using a map alone is a blunt instrument which disregards so much human history.”

CLS are just one of a host of organisations to respond to the proposals by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Among those who have criticised the prospect of additional restrictions on land use are the South Uist community landlord Stòras Uibhist and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

However, a number of environmental organisations are supportive and many regard the wild land designation as a mechanism that could prevent wind farm developments in sensitive areas.

The wild land map covers 43 different blocks of land, mainly in the Highlands and Islands. They include large parts of Sutherland and Wester Ross, South Lewis, Harris, the hills of Uig and of South Uist, the Cuillins and the hills overlooking Loch Bracadale in Skye.

In their submission, the comhairle conceded that the process could help identify areas of wild land but said decisions should be taken at a local level.

“The comhairle agrees that the SNH work on ‘core areas’ can inform identification of areas of wild land,” the submission said. “However, it believes that local authorities are best placed to determine the final areas that should be included in development plans taking account of specific local circumstances, and the policy on wild land should be set locally.”

As we went to press yesterday (Wednesday) Highland Council were formulating their response.

The Core Wild Land consultation was launched in the early part of 2013 and is designed to inform planners and decision-makers on which areas are considered the most environmentally valued and important.  SNH insist they are not environmental designations.