Land, its ownership, its uses, its economic value and its biological importance are now high on the political agenda and are likely to remain there. Not only is land reform a priority for the Scottish Government, tensions are emerging between environmental groups which might, at one time, have been in agreement. An example of the latter is the debate regarding whether the remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest should be allowed to regenerate without man's intervention or whether they should be given a helping hand (see 'Caledonian Foresters' in Mountain Views 71). Two other dimensions of the 'land debate' caught the Trust's eye over the summer.
Rob Gibson MSP has being arguing that environmental protection is preventing highland communities from developing. He has said that some areas covered by land designations are 'Clearances country', a statement raising a highly emotive spectre, and he produced a map to support his point. Mr. Gibson is particularly concerned by what he sees as the effects of restrictions on wind developments on local economies. It should be noted that Rob Gibson is a supporter of certain aspects of conservation as demonstrated by his concerns for current deer management practices. In a thoughtful article on the Walkhighlands website, David Lintern has written a rebuttal of these arguments.
David Lintern argues that introducing the ghost of the Clearances into debates about the current use and protection of the land only serves to muddy the waters. He has undertaken mapping of parts of Argyll and Caithness which, he says, shows that, in those areas, there is little overlap between villages which were cleared and present day environmental designations with none of the former falling within SNH's mapped 'wild land'. He points out that settlements in the latter were rarely inhabited continuously but tended to be for seasonal agricultural use.
David Lintern also shows that the population in many parts of the Highlands has risen in recent years. Whilst fully acknowledging the problems of a lack of affordable housing and the low wage economy that exists in parts of the tourism industry, he underlines the crucial role visitors play in the Highland economy. He argues that far from being 'interfering urban busybodies', a number of conservation groups are working with local people to create jobs and sustainable economic opportunities.
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