Where are the uplands?
1. What broad characteristics should we use to define the uplands? Some possible approaches are summarised in the annex to this note.
We consider that the discussion in the annex is useful and helpful. We see merit in the second point referring to land above the limit of enclosed farmland. However, this definition is land-based and if we refer to the national Land Use Strategy (LUS), which originated this work, then a more people-based vision might be more appropriate. The LUS vision (to 2050) is:
"A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation."
The LUS vision is thus focused towards human attitudes, and the expected outcomes of "plans and decisions about land use"
What benefits do the uplands provide to Scotland?
2. What are the key social, economic and environmental benefits that the uplands provide for Scotland?
Social - access to nature/wildlife with proven health benefits, space for active outdoor pursuits, appreciation of the scenery and wild landscape.
Economic - currently, the main economic sectors are services (public and private, mostly local but some regional/national/international, such as tourism), cattle and sheep farming (both heavily subsidised), and energy generation (with new renewables receiving major fiscal and planning support). There is a little manufacturing and mining. Bigger enterprises are often owned or financed from outwith the uplands, meaning dispersion and uncertainty of management. The "benefits" and "well-being" attached to these various sectors vary widely. A "vision" should seek to identify which sectors and characteristics should succeed in the longer run; clearly there is much dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. However, assuming no major disruption to international and perhaps national trade (e.g. rampant protectionism, or transport fuel shortages), the economic sustainability of benefits will depend primarily on external demand.
Environmental - natural flood management, habitats for a wide variety of species, carbon sequestration, preservation of soils
3. How can upland land use help to prevent or reduce the impacts of climate change?
Peat conservation and restoration - carbon sequestration
Woodland, preferably deciduous/native, expansion
Natural flood management to reduce severity of future increased flood events
Wind farms = renewable energy (although we should recognize that siting is highly important if we are not to lose the other environmental benefits and we need to recognize that we are approaching the limit of the grid to cope with intermittent power)
Additional hydro renewable energy but remaining capacity is probably negligible
Pumped storage to address intermittency of renewables
What should an upland vision include?
4. A strategic vision could inform decisions about the balance between different land uses in different parts of the uplands. What are the key choices that an upland vision should address, and why?
Reafforestation & peatland restoration vs. sustaining current levels
of grazing by sheep and deer
Development such as wind farms, recreational facilities and tourism facilities vs. the tourist appeal and health benefits of wild and untouched scenery
Artificial drainage vs. natural flood management
SLE desire to be left to "steward" the land in their way vs. the wider public benefits of more regulation, e.g. deer numbers
5. Are there any other topics or issues that should be included in an upland vision, and if so why?
The uplands of Scotland are essentially a badly degraded landscape, largely bereft of native trees and in poor ecological health. Report after report highlight limited areas of native woodland, areas where peat is in poor shape, and large areas where the vegetation is in an unsatisfactory condition and lacks diversity. Communities physically close to upland areas are often too dependent on activities which require few jobs and on seasonal tourism.
We suggest that SNH should start from the point where the overarching vision is to bring the uplands back into good ecological health. We all know what that means in terms of deer numbers, grouse moors and upland sheep farming. This is not to suggest that these activities should cease, but that they should be carried out in ways that support improvements in the ecology of the uplands. The benefits of environmental recovery include greater carbon sequestration, the reduced likelihood of flooding causing major downstream damage, greater diversity of wildlife, and an enhanced experience for a wide range of visitors. Efforts to rehabilitate the uplands in these ways are likely to bring as many or more jobs than many of the traditional activities pursued there
Another issue to consider is zoning. This concept is critical, as almost all the land defined by SNH as 'wild' is also 'upland'. There needs to be a strengthening of the protection of these areas from infrastructure developments without giving the impression that anything goes in upland areas not defined in SNH's "wild land" map.
6. Are there any topics or issues that should be excluded from an upland vision, and if so why?
How should the vision be developed?
7. Which stakeholders do you think it would be particularly important to involve, and how? Would particular approaches be needed, for example, to reach particular groups?
Landowners, public interest, local authorities, recreational groups, NGOs,
We think that it is important to emphasise that communities of interest outwith an area are as important as communities which are physically within or close to the area. Often, external communities are the economic life blood of local upland communities.
8. What are your views on the process that might be needed to bring together the key interests and develop a shared vision?
We think that SNH are best placed to sort this out.
9. Who would be best placed to lead this process?
10. What form should a vision for the uplands take (visual or descriptive, maps, diagrams or text)?
A vision needs to be descriptive, using as few words as possible. It is unlikely to be articulated in sufficient detail that maps and diagrams are helpful.
12. Do you have any other comments or suggestions?
In the last issue, I said that we would print the full copy of our reply. Well, in the end, it ran to 17 pages and I think that that is too much for Mountain Views. Instead, we have placed a copy on our website.
Since then, the Authority has published its analysis of all the replies. At 127 pages long, it is far from easy reading. Unfortunately, anybody can make anything from it. Estate owners can claim that their concerns were listened to. NGOs can find their response material and see that they were also listened to. In a reflection of our current global drive for transparency and openness, no official exercised any discretion in summarising what was said. This, of course, gives the authority all the room in the world to follow their own agenda.
At a LINK meeting in Perth on 13/3/17, Hamish Trench and Grant Moir of the CNPA updated us on progress. The plan is due to get approved by the CNPA Board in early April and then go for final approval by Scottish Ministers sometime during April. They gave an outline of the main features of the plan, such as increased attention to themes such as deer management, moorland management and provision of affordable housing, which are all things that we want to see. I wont list any more detail as the plan is likely to be available for reading in detail as you see this.
We have reviewed this document and, despite being dismayed at the drive for more and more wind farms, have decided that there are no useful comments from our perspective. We are concerned with planning matters, not with onshore wind energy as such. Unfortunately, this document assumes that all is well with the planning system and that wind farms are only built in areas that are suitable! Part of the document refers to the Peatland Policy Statement and, at the time of going to press, we are working on a suitable response to this document.
Although we usually leave Bennachie matters to the Bailies, we replied requesting that, on open hillside, any maintenance shouldn't increase the size and obtrusiveness of the paths and associated signage. We have since been assured by Forest Enterprise that there are no plans to work on footpaths outwith the forest or to increase signage.
Much of this Scottish Government consultation addresses aspects of planning procedures which do not impact on NEMT"s aims. In responding to the consultation, NEMT did highlight the following:
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