CNPA Hilltracks Working Group
Probably as a result of the publicity generated by Peter Peacock MSP and Sarah
Boyack MSP's hill tracks petition, the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA)
has decided to review its existing policy on hill tracks. We fully support the
need for a review. The existing policy is, in our opinion, poor. It focuses
on building new tracks correctly, in accordance with good practice. Our view,
expressed when we commented on the draft policy, is that it should be aimed
at stopping the current proliferation of new track building. Even when well-constructed,
a new hilltrack damages the landscape and erodes the feeling of wild land. The
estates justify them as needed for agricultural purposes but, in fact, they
run to butts and are there merely to save some walking.
The approach adopted by CNPA is interesting. It decided to hold two separate
workshops. The first was held for land managers, at Braemar, on 10th
May and the second was held for representatives of conservation and recreational
groups, at Aviemore, on 24th June. They were co-hosted by CNPA, Scottish
Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association
(SRPBA). Presumably, the choice of two separate workshops was made in the belief
that getting any agreement was going to be too difficult and that it would be
better to stop inevitable mudslinging. Both groups commented on this approach,
suspecting that it might reinforce existing differences rather than accentuate
possible areas of common ground.
NEMT was invited to the second event, but, regrettably, nobody was available.
This has meant that we have lost our chance to have a representative on the
working group. However, our views will have been well-represented by the other
representatives, who are listed below.
Hebe Carus, Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Mike Daniels, John Muir Trust
Helen McDade, John Muir Trust
Rob McMorran, Scottish Wild Land Group
Calum Brown, Scottish Wild Land Group
Peter Holden, National Trust for Scotland
Nic Bullivant, Cairngorm Mountain & Local Access Forum
Bill Wright, Association for Protection of Rural Scotland
A comprehensive report has been produced giving great detail about what was
said, although some form of summary document would be very useful. This report
will now be used to support the discussions of a small policy group, convened
by CNPA, and comprising volunteer representatives of those participating in
each of the events held in May and June.
This group will assist CNPA in reaching conclusions on the most appropriate
policy to be adopted on hill tracks, and on the most useful forms of guidance
for land owners, managers and agents as well as contractors and users.
The two groups unsurprisingly expressed views along two separate lines; we
need to build more hilltracks to get access onto our land to manage it effectively
and there are enough hilltracks already which are damaging the landscape. Finding
common ground between the two won't be easy. We await the outcome with interest!
As noted above, the report lacks a good summary. However, it does give Key Messages
from both events and these are as follows.
- Land owners and managers are clear about the need for hill tracks and justify
their position on economic, operational and safety grounds. They believe there
are few credible, effective or affordable alternatives. They accept that hill
tracks do influence the way in which people experience the hill environment
while arguing that a balance has to be struck between an unavoidable degree
of visual intrusion and the operational and economic needs of well managed
modern estate businesses, which result in local employment benefits.
- There is much evidence of good, as well as indifferent, or poor, practice
'on the ground'. Equally, there is an appetite to learn from one another,
sharing good practice. There is now scope to build on this provided someone,
either an individual or organization, is prepared to take on a leadership
- Land owners and managers are, in general, well aware of and sensitive to
environmental issues. The most thoughtful take their stewardship of the natural
environment very seriously. They are sensitive to the suggestion that responsibility
for securing a high quality environmental legacy lies principally in the public
sector. However, the aspirations, efforts and achievement of the best of the
private sector play an equal or, some think, even greater role which deserves
acknowledgement. Successful progression on this project and a worthwhile outcome
will depend on an equal partnership between the public and private sectors.
- Clarity is required in the areas of good practice, legislation and the
implementation of regulation. It is agreed that effort must be targeted now
by the public and private sectors working together to resolve these issues.
The current lack of clarity on this area by the public sector is a matter
of particular concern.
- The collective intelligence that collaboration would bring to these tasks
would produce widespread benefits. There are useful lessons to be learnt from
the process of preparing and publishing SNH's 1996 publication Constructed
tracks in the Scottish Uplands. There is also a formidable amount of knowledge
'out there'. Everyone agrees that what is now required is a well-managed and
collaborative process to bring it together in a 'fit for purpose' form. A
similarly collaborative and constructive process should be applied to the
preparation of CNPA's policy on hill tracks. The involvement of land owners
and managers in this is essential.
- The overall view of land owners and managers participating in the event
is captured in the following quote. "Hill tracks are a required management
access tool and allow estates easier access to the hill for management purposes.
Practical and design aspects are the main aspects to be considered before
construction / upgrade. Without hill tracks, sporting, and its associated
economic benefits, habitat management will deteriorate."
- There are 4 main land management requirements that are most likely to trigger
a proposal for a new or upgraded track. These are deer management (highly
significant), the intensification of grouse management, supporting energy
and telecoms projects and managing public access. Other important requirements
include provision for emergency access, e.g. fire-fighting, and health and
safety considerations, e.g. lone working or working time directive.
- Overall, there are few alternatives other than multi-use tracks. Those
that are identifiable are either questioned or rejected as being ineffective,
impractical or unaffordable, e.g. in most instances, helicopters, or un-commercial,
e.g. leaving carcasses to rot, or too labour-intensive, e.g. use of ponies,
or are limited by health and safety considerations, e.g. safe extraction of
- Although land owners and managers are not implacably opposed to finding
alternatives, at present, there appear to be few alternatives.
- There is a very long list of issues to be taken into consideration during
the process of preparing a planning application. Two key questions remain
as a source of concern to land managers: 'where do you go for advice on best
practice' and how can you get advice 'about the need for planning permission'
without being compromised?
- The central issue, and source of most concern, is the absence of benchmark
standards of good practice accompanied by clear guidance on policy and regulation.
The continuing absence of these fundamental elements will continue to frustrate
land managers who, based on evidence of the event, appear both eager and committed
to try and do 'the right thing.'
- SNH's failure to publicise its 1996 publication, Constructed tracks in
the Scottish Uplands, is something of an 'own goal' as many had been unaware
of its existence until copies were issued at the event. This was welcomed
as a 'good first attempt.' The general mood of participants was to encourage
development and publication of a revised and updated version, by the public
and private sectors working in partnership, involving a higher level of consultation
than had apparently been the case with the present version.
- Encouragingly, conflict is not considered to be an inevitable part of the
planning process. Most take the view that it can be avoided by early and informed
discussions with relevant planning authorities and by adopting a pragmatic
approach. Contractors are viewed as a good source of best practice information
and employing a good site manager who can 'see a potential roadline' is a
critical factor to achieving the best possible outcome.
- Aside from technical recommendations, amongst which issues related to managing
water feature prominently, the following observations were highlighted.
- Consultation, first
- Detailed survey
- Get the right contractor with the right machines (emphasis on 'right';
big plant is not necessarily more damaging)
- Walk the line with the contractor
- Agree a clear specification with the contractor before work begins
- Agree every detail of how the work should be done
- Be an accessible client
CONSERVATION & RECREATIONAL GROUPS
- These 3 statements summarise the overall conclusions of this event:
'There has emerged a pretty uniform view about hill tracks in wild land
amongst environmentally focused organisations, i.e. there is not a good case
for new hill tracks at higher altitude in general, and in CNPA especially,
and the proliferation of tracks is impacting on our landscape and visual quality
which has an economic effect counter to the one identified in favour of hill
tracks. Naturally, there are some exceptions, but these should need special
'There is still a strong difference of opinion between traditional land
managers and others. Thinking about wild land or even just landscape today
is at the stage that biodiversity was 20 years ago. The time has come for
much more attention to be paid to landscape at national and international
'A collective conclusion from what I have seen and heard is that a strategic,
map based approach to zoning wildness / wild land across the park (which zones
the park based on varying wild character) is crucial to providing planning
guidance on hill tracks in the future, eg recognizing core wild areas to minimize
track development in these areas.'
- In relation to the impact of hill tracks on biodiversity, disturbance is
the main issue, compounded by the proliferation of tracks, bulldozed tracks
and the inappropriate use of tracks, e.g. taking a Landrover up a footpath.
The main impacts, which are considered to produce widespread damage, are loss
of habitat, erosion and peat/carbon loss. There is lack of clear evidence
of any environmental benefit from having tracks.
- Suggested solutions include a commitment to consideration of alternatives
to tracks ('with a will, it is possible to access areas for management) supported
by a policy to limit proliferation and planning to steer people away from
the most sensitive areas. The reintroduction of walked up shooting for deer
and grouse was proposed. The formal adoption of zonation is thought to be
the single most influential and potentially effective solution.
- Diminishing natural landscape and wild land, seen as one of Scotland's
greatest assets is the central issue resulting in loss of a distinctive quality
of landscape and an adverse aesthetic impact. The loss of old tracks (as a
result of upgrades and damage) which have ameliorated into the landscape has
a detrimental impact on cultural heritage. It is claimed that there is an
economic impact (on tourism) resulting from the reduction of scenic quality
as a consequence of visually intrusive hill tracks.
- Suggested solutions propose a mix of advocacy and practical measure. CNPA
should take a leading role in promoting values as well as controls and encouraging
society to recognize the value of un-spoilt landscape. Protection of areas
through stronger controls on zoning, refusing permission for the upgrading
of heritage tracks, a requirement for an environmental assessment for all
new tracks and removal of the Permitted Development Right were among the measures
suggested to support advocacy. At a practical level, adoption of improved
practice in design and drainage would be helped by best practice guidance.
- Access is not a justification for building new tracks; an almost unequivocal
assertion by conservation and recreation group representatives. The grounds
of emergency access and safety are insufficient. The availability of hill
tracks makes remote areas more accessible to the ill-equipped and ill-prepared
thereby increasing risk. It is claimed that no mountain rescue team has ever
asked for improved vehicular access for rescue.
- Equality of access is recognized as an issue, for walkers and cyclists
as well as estate users, and can create demands for new connecting paths between
hill tracks all of which have damaging impacts on the environment. The poor/irresponsible
promotion of bike routes, for example, tempts users into sensitive areas.
- Suggested solutions again fall broadly into the categories of advocacy
and practical measure. Responsible promotion and a code of usage balanced
by guidance on good practice in footpath construction, and, where possible,
downgrading a hill track to a footpath. At a fundamental level, a requirement
for planning permission will enable the case for each proposed track to be
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