Readers of Mountain Views will remember our coverage of the John Muir Trust Wild Land Conference, where JMT launched their "Declaration for the Wild", in our Autumn 2004 issue.
The purpose of this Campaign is to ensure that UK wild land is better protected and the NEMT is very much in support of the principle of the Campaign and the work of the JMT. Wild Land continues to be under serious threat and we need to take action to safeguard what remains. According to SNH, the extent of Scotland unaffected by any form of visual influence declined from 41% to 31% during the period 2002 to 2008. "Visual influence" means the impact of roads and access tracks, power lines, wind power developments and forestry. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, the SNH data shows that the dominant change during that period was from the growth in wind power developments.
Wild land is generally taken as large uninhabited areas with spectacular scenery and high wildlife value with very little evidence of human activity. There are many precise definitions available, but they are all rather sterile and meaningless. Most of us intuitively know what is meant by the term.
Wild land is important for more than its scenic and wildlife value. It is the source of vital resources for both people and the planet, providing us with clean air, water and food. It also helps to regulate the climate - peat in the form of blanket bogs plays an increasingly recognized role in preventing damaging carbon emissions. It is hugely important to our tourism and leisure industries, attracting visitors who support tourism related businesses and hence contribute to the fragile rural economies. Thousands of people enjoy the beauty and challenges of wild land every year. It's a way of recharging our batteries and plays a spiritual role as well.
Right now, wild land is facing a major threat. Development pressures are increasing and the more accessible and less-sensitive sites are getting used up. The problem is that, while important animals, birds and habitats are generally well-protected, landscape as an entity has relatively little statutory protection. In addition, within areas that can still be regarded as wild, excessive grazing and trampling are degrading the ecological health and diversity of the flora and fauna.
The campaign is seeking better statutory protection for wild land. In Scotland, less than 50% of our highest-quality wild land is covered by any designation, i.e. National Scenic Area, or falls within the boundaries of a National Park. (In the UK, outside Scotland, there are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.) Even where wild land does come under a designation, there is evidence from recent planning decisions to suggest that protection of such wild land is by no means guaranteed. A by-product from the Campaign will be to send a clear message to the politicians that there is popular demand to increase the areas and protection of our National Parks.
Part of the Campaign will need to address the issue of onshore industrial-size wind farm developments. As noted above, SNH's figures show that this is the biggest contributor to the current loss of wild land. Climate change is a very serious global issue and is a major threat to wild land and the unique habitats and biodiversity that it supports. However, the solution will be found in a balanced approach, balancing the need to conserve our wild land resource, convert to renewable energy and dramatically reduce our energy consumption, "without having to return to the Stone Age". Solutions to issues such as the intermittent nature of the wind requiring improved energy storage need to be found. The John Muir Trust is well-positioned to provide this balanced view and to date has a good track record in doing so.
The Campaign is ambitious. Getting a Wild Land Designation for Scotland will require legislation in the Scottish Parliament. This will involve significant work and wide consultation. It won't happen quickly. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't start. Along the way, the Campaign will engage the wider public and promote awareness and understanding of the need for wild land. Demonstrating wide support for the objective of protecting wild land will ensure that the UK Government and the devolved Scottish Government adopt more informed and sensitive approaches to wild land and develop more robust mechanisms for its protection.
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