LINK Wild Land Seminar 18th February 2003

A significant problem in protecting wild land is agreeing what each of us mean by "wild land". There has already been much debate on the subject and three recent publications (by Scottish Natural Heritage, the National Trust for Scotland and the Scottish Wild Land Group). It was very encouraging to hear so much agreement at the Scottish Environment Link Seminar held on 18th February 2003 in Pitlochry. Link intend to publish full proceedings of the day but this summary is to inform NEMT members of the issues.The 40 delegates represented nearly 20 member organisations. In setting the scene Bob Aitken urged us to view wild land not as a physical resource, rather as a social construct. He challenged the assumption that there is inherent value in re-populating empty glens and then considered the positive and negative stimuli on wild land.

The speakers who followed gave a range of perspectives, all of which have an impact on our experience of wild land: Mark Wrightham (SNH policy statement); Fiona Anderson (Planning); Will Boyd-Wallis (Community); Graeme Morison (Woodland); Richard Evans (Wildlife) and Jill Harden (Cultural). Former MCofS President, Nick Kempe indicated that Nature Conservationists had achieved a certain amount and hoped that Recreational Users might become pro-active and be able to take things further.

Delegates spent the afternoon considering separate aspects of the subject in small groups:

The first group recognised the need to agree what we want to protect - is it those small elements of wildness close to the urban centres of population or the big tracts in the north west. The group fully supported the "enhancers - detractors" model as used by SNH and NTS and felt it was important to manage people and access, not to interfere with natural systems. The detractors would be best influenced through a strong planning system, e.g. NPPG14 (now a Planning Advice Note). Finally, enhancement of people's experience of wild land means increasing awareness amongst people and politicians through interpretation, education and lobbying. Some enhancement of quality may be appropriate through restoration (e.g. removal of bulldozed tracks).

The second group felt the need to concentrate on the larger, remote areas in Scotland. Existing designations (National Scenic Areas and SSSI) and forthcoming Scottish Bills (Natural Heritage, Planning and secondary Water Framework legislation) should be able to provide protection for the landscape values that are important.

The third group felt there was little public understanding of wild land or biodiversity and preferred to promote the concept of wild landscape. Although wild life protection has its own agenda for each species and is not necessarily in agreement with wild land values, some icons (e.g. Golden Eagle) may have limited use. The group recognised the benefit of linking promotion to other government policy (e.g. Physical Activity and Tourism). A major stumbling block is the adverse impact of some other policies (e.g. Agricultural subsidy, Rural Development and Renewable Energy).

Area of Search for Wild Land in Scotland (SNH 2002)

Search Map

This map does not aim to depict wild land. It is a search area map which is likely to encompass all the main wild land areas, although it is not comprehensive of all the smaller areas which might be identified as having wild land character. For a fuller explanation of the purpose and scope of this map, please refer to paragraph 13 of Annex 1 to the Wildness in Scotland's Countryside paper

Reproduced with kind permission of the Ordnance Survey
© Crown Copyright NC/03/7892

In the feedback session we heard many ideas that had been developed in the groups. Some of the concepts that kept coming through were the Predominance of Natural Processes, "self-willed", close to nature, escape and adventure, self-reliance and "non-consumptive" use. There was general agreement that the Recreational / Ecological split is artificial and detrimental. Any appeal to public and politicians needs to be in simple terms. Wild landscapes are good for People. People, and not nature, changes landscapes. This was no rehearsal of oft-heard ideas and much progress was made in the battle to prevent the attrition of one of the greatest assets of our country.

This may all sound very dry, but progress can only be made once we are very sure what we are trying to achieve. There are a wide range of views to be incorporated. We then need to express it simply and clearly for other to understand.

One of the key issues to remain at the end of the day was that of the strength of LINK support towards the SNH paper. While the bulk of the strategy commands unqualified support from LINK members, a problem with the 'area of search' for wild land was raised. This was presented in a Map (reproduced left) which, in SNH terms, "presents a preliminary search map for wild land". It is made up of an amalgam of the key attributes of 'wildness' in Scotland's countryside, including perceived naturalness (quantified from vegetation classification), lack of anthropological constructions- especially roads and tracks), and evidence of contemporary land use. The main issue facing LINK delegates was that, should the Scottish Executive seek to define Wild Land in Scotland, that they would use this area of search as the maximum, rather than the minimum. As is clearly seen this is an unacceptable maximum, rather, it was felt by delegates that this should represent a basic starting point. One of the key problems is that it does not include some areas such as Glen Coe, the Torridon peaks, or much of the northern Cairngorms purely because they are either near a main road, or have modern land use.

NEMT members who wish to contribute to the debate are welcome to contact us.

Donald Thomas and Graham Neville, 6th March 2003

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