Exchanges over the interim report on Wild Land Consultation submissions recently released by the Scottish Government under-line the complexity of the debate.
The John Muir Trust had argued the responses displayed the importance the public attach to protecting wild land. But the community landowner of South Uist Estates, Stòras Uibhist, said closer examination showed those who live and work in the 43 areas included in the Core Wild Land Map had deep misgivings.
Stòras Uibhist pointed to the Highland Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Community Energy Scotland, Community Land Scotland, Scottish Crofting Federation and the Crofting Commission.
One which could have been added to that list was the Knoydart Foundation, which completed a community buyout of the last 17,000 acres of the once 80,000-acre Knoydart Estate in 1999.
Its little-noticed submission articulated the perception of many in communities on the map. Foundation members say they share the desire of many visitors to protect what is often described as the last true wilderness in Britain.
They continued: “However, it appears the designation of ‘wild land’ is essentially about the perception of those from outwith the area and pays no heed of the views or perceptions of those people who live and work there.”
But here’s a thing, the Knoydart Foundation was set up as a partnership of local residents, the Highland Council, the Chris Brasher Trust, Kilchoan Estate and the John Muir Trust.
Indeed the chairman of the JMT is the same John Hutchison who, as Lochaber area manager of Highland Council, made Olympian efforts help the community buyout of Knoydart and before that the island of Eigg. He still chairs the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust which has owned the island since 1997. The islanders there will tell of his extraordinary commitment to their community’ aspirations.
It would normally be second nature to the Lochaber-based Gaelic enthusiast to side with local communities in most debates. However Mr Hutchison is passionate in his opposition to wealthy landowners and multinationals making money out of large wind farms strewn across the Highlands.
He must be hoarse arguing neither he nor the JMT is opposed to community-based development (it would be a brave person to challenge Willie McSporran on the benefits Gigha gets from its four turbines).
However the JMT was the body campaigning for a wild land designation. It failed to persuade either Holyrood’s petitions committee or ministers but any such new environmental designation is exactly what many rural communities fear because of the restrictions they are convinced it would bring.
Scottish Natural Heritage insists the wild land map is about helping planners and is not the preface to a new designation. But deep local concerns persist, betraying a chronic lack of trust when it comes to environmental protection. That should concern ministers.