One of the UK’s leading conservation bodies today launches a new national campaign for greater protection of Scotland’s Wild Land Areas amid concern that a Scottish renewable energy case at the Court of Session potentially threatens the future of Scotland’s unique landscapes.
The John Muir Trust’s “Keep It Wild” campaign calls on the Scottish Government to use the forthcoming Planning Bill to give Wild Land Areas protection from industrial-scale development, similar to the protection already in place for windfarms in National Parks and NSAs.
The campaign comes as the Court of Session in Edinburgh is set to decide a judicial review of a decision to approve Creag Riabhach wind farm in Altnaharra that would allow the development of 22-turbines up to 125m tall, including five within Wild Land Area 37.
The court case highlights that the Scottish Government said in June 2014 that they intended to give strengthened protection for Wild Land Areas. However, the recent government approval for the Creag Riabhach development has cast doubt on this, as the permission granted to the developers was the first to encroach the boundaries of a designated Wild Land Area.
To mark the launch of the Keep it Wild campaign, the Trust has released a new YouGov poll which reveals 80 per cent of voters back the proposition that Scotland’s Wild Land Areas should receive continued protection from large-scale infrastructure development.
An absolute majority – 52 per cent – ‘strongly agree’ that “Wild Land Areas should continue to be protected from large-scale infrastructure, such as industrial-scale wind farms, major electricity transmission and super-quarries”, while a further 28 per cent ‘tend to agree’.
Just five per cent ‘tend to disagree’ with this wild land protection, while the number who ‘strongly disagree‘ is negligible, registering zero per cent in the YouGov poll.
Of the remainder, 12 per cent ‘neither agree nor disagree’ with the proposals, with three per cent undecided.
Support for wild land protection is overwhelming among all age groups and geographical regions. The Highlands and Islands, where most of Scotland’s wild land is located, has the highest proportion of people (60 per cent) who strongly agree with the protection of Wild Land Areas.
Scotland’s Wild Land Areas
In June 2014 Scottish Natural Heritage – the Scottish Government’s official agency that oversees nature and landscape – published a map of 42 Wild Land Areas covering just under 20 per cent of Scotland’s total land mass. These areas are characterised by perceived naturalness, ruggedness and absence of major human infrastructure.
The Scottish Government promised significant protection in planning policy for Wild Land Areas at the time they were officially recognised in 2014. However energy developers continue to submit applications to construct industrial-scale wind farms in these areas, and, although a number have been refused permission, the recent decision to approve the Creag Riabhach wind farm in Altnaharra has created uncertainty about the continued protection of Wild Land Areas into the future. This is the first time consent has been given for a wind farm within a Wild Land Area.
There are a number of other major wind farms proposed, in various stages of planning approval, which would also have a major impact on WLAs. These include Caplich (20 turbines) in the shadow of Ben Mor Assynt; Strathy South (39 turbines) in the Flow Country and Limekiln (24 turbines) near Reay in Caithness.
Helen McDade, Head of Policy for the John Muir Trust said: “Scotland is united in wishing to keep our wild landscapes free from large-scale wind farms, giant pylons, super quarries and other inappropriate commercial developments.
“The forthcoming Planning Bill provides a unique opportunity to provide the protection that’s currently missing, which means that cases like Creag Riabhach wind farm currently have to be challenged in the courts.
That’s why we’re launching the Keep it Wild campaign, to persuade the Scottish Government that protection for Wild Land Areas must be enshrined in legislation before they are lost for good.
“Wild land is a key part of Scotland’s natural heritage and national identity. It is also a major driver of the Scottish economy, attracting tourists from all over the world to visit, spend money and support jobs in some our most fragile local communities.
“And with support for wild protection outweighing opposition by 16 to 1, it’s hard to think of any other public issue which commands such a universal consensus across age groups, geographical regions and social classes.”
The Keep It Wild campaign urges people to show their support for Scotland’s Wild Land Areas to be protected as a unique natural legacy for future generations by writing to their MSP and / or Scotland’s Planning Minister, and getting involved on social media using the hashtag #keepitwild