February 12, 2014
Communities go wild at SNH
All of nature for all of Scotland. This is the mission statement of the public agency charged by Scottish Government with the job of protecting our natural heritage. In part driven by recent sensitivities around wind farm development in areas of natural beauty, and in particular land that could be considered precious for its ‘wildness’, SNH has drawn up a map of what it considers to be Scotland’s wild land. This would effectively curtail any development in these areas. No surprise then that the affected communities are up in arms.
‘Kill the SNH Wild Land map before it kills your rural community’ is the message from many of the organisations responding to the Scottish Natural Heritage consultation on ‘Wild Land Mapping.’
Responses to Scottish Natural Heritage Core Areas of Wild Land 2013 Map can now be read on-line. Over 400 responses show the depth of feeling on the ‘Wild Land Map’ issue.
Community Energy Scotland has indicated that arbitrary designations to prevent any development contravene the justice of a planning system where any proposal should be judged on its specific impact and overall balance of benefits and impacts.
It must be said that many rural respondents to the consultation take fundamental issue with the notion of ‘wild land’. What may seem like wild land to a visitor is the land they live and work in. A blanket prohibition on any development will surely make these communities weaker, and cause them to wither.
Bonawe Grazings Committee, in their response (411) states that ‘Crofters think your (SNH) definition of ‘wildness’ is misguided, misplaced and offensive.’ TheKnoydart Foundation states (371) that the Wild Land Map ‘pays no heed to views or perceptions of the people who live and work there’.
SNH Wild land map can ‘kill any potential for Highlanders to make the most of economic opportunities’ (Storas Uibhist 266)
Friends of the Earth Scotland is concerned that the ‘Wild land’ map will disadvantage rural dwellers (377) and calls for ‘Special consideration for community energy developments such as wind or hydro schemes. FOE Scotland also adds that the ‘map shouldn’t be a rigid tool that enables those who do not reside locally to discriminate against rural communities’.
Rural communities who have been stewarding their land for generations agree with this. Keoldale Sheep Stock Club (370) do not want the map to ‘restrict or stop any renewable energy / development schemes.’ The Scottish Crofting Federation (058) adds that ‘Further designations will erode the influence and local control which is essential if crofting areas are to thrive in the future’.
Private estates come to the defence of communities in their areas and beyond too. The considered response from the Alvie and Dalraddy Estate (265) makes the point that areas like Strathspey have a balanced economy and established infrastructure allowing access, enjoyment, development control and economic activity. The submission fears that areas which are not currently so fortunate would be disadvantaged by the Wild Land map. The Alvie and Dalraddy Estate is widely seen as the leading example of a forward looking diversified highland estate which provides access, employment, activities and educational opportunities for schools, whilst producing some the finest beef cattle in Scotland. Their submission continues ‘It would appear that the criteria for designating an area ‘a core area of wild land’ may be more to do with discouraging the development of renewable energy opportunities than meeting the physical attributes (of wild land).’
In Argyll, Ardkinglas Estate (012) casts aspersions on the accuracy of the map, its criteria and, like many other respondents slates SNH for a lack of consultation ahead of its publication.
In their response Network Rail (285) highlights the ludicrous situation where long lengths of their railway tracks in the Highlands are designated as Wild Land and respectfully suggests these be excluded. Other respondents have looked the lines drawn on a map by SNH in their communities and point out they are arbitrary in the extreme, with local knowledge clearly absent from any decision making by SNH.
Scotland’s small scale renewable energy developers are also responding. MEG Renewables – who switched their attention to low-impact hydro schemes after SNH objections to local wind turbine projects states (246) that ‘The proposal by SNH to introduce large areas of designated wild land, where all forms of development are forbidden represents a step too far.’
The wild land attempt to cause Scotland’s rural communities to wither under a rule of ‘no development’ is challenged further by many respondents. Community-owned estates and others suggest that to ‘stop the clock’ in 2014 is beyond sense. They contend that areas of land cleared of their people in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could be repopulated. Community Land Scotland (313) states that ‘(previously cleared) areas should once again contain significant human populations.’ SNH’s proposals compound and accept the effect that the Clearances have had on Highland Scotland.
In conclusion, the dubious definition of what is wild land, the subjective external consideration of land use by Scotland’s rural dwellers by the SNH desk exercise and the wholesale disregard for the continued existence of numerous Scottish rural communities should all mean that this wild land map is firmly rejected as the last thing rural Scotland’s communities need.
Read all the submissions here (numbers in brackets above refer to the numbered submissions)