Nine controversial wind farms have been refused or blocked in the past 18 months because they were planned for areas which are designated as wild land.
The developments would have seen more than 192 more turbines erected in some of the more remote and rugged parts of the country.
But since Scottish Natural Heritage produced a map showing 42 areas of wild land, covering almost four million acres of Scotland, planning policy has had to take account of the areas to ensure there is inappropriate development.
It has meant that nine planned wind farms – including one at Sutherland and another at Glen Affric – have been knocked back or blocked.
Permission for the 67-turbine Stronelairg wind farm in the Monadhliath mountains south east of Fort Augustus was quashed by a Court of Session judge last month in a legal move with the issue of wild land at its heart. It is now being appealed by ministers and developers.
The impact of the map, which was ordered by government ministers, is seen by many as testimony to the campaigning skills of the wild land charity the John Muir Trust (JMT) and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
However, others fear that it could threaten the future of some communities to develop further.
Stuart Brooks, chief executive of the John Muir Trust said: “We congratulate the Scottish Government for standing by its promise to protect these areas and we’d encourage it to continue to safeguard these special wild places into the long-term future.
“We also believe there is now an opportunity to spread the benefits down to local communities. Advertising the existence of these Wild Land Areas to the wider world, for example could boost visitor numbers in places which are off the beaten tourist track.
“And in some areas, woodland and peatland restoration projects could help repair damaged ecosystems, while creating jobs and sustaining local communities.”
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was asked by ministers to draw up a map of showing those areas of Scotland which displayed the highest level of wildness.
In June last year, after a public consultation SNH produced its final map. Areas of wild land range from the 10,000 plus acres of peatlands at Ronas Hill, North Roe in Shetland to the 20,000 acres around Merrick in Galloway, the highest summit in Southern Scotland.
The map was to allow the planning process ensure there is no inappropriate development, notably large wind farms, in the areas identified.
The first to fall was in August 2014 when the 34-turbine Glenmorie wind farm in Sutherland to the west of the villages of Ardgay and Bonar Bridge, was refused by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing because of “unacceptable landscape and visual impacts”.
The latest was only on December 14 when Highland Council rejected plans for the 13 turbine Culachy Wind Farm in the hills near Fort Augustus, although the developers may yet appeal.
There are no fresh proposals for wind farms in the mapped areas.
But there are still four applications outstanding and a further 20 proposals are being contested because of their impact on wild land areas, although the developments would be outside of the designated zones.
Rob Gibson, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland & Ross, has tabled questions for ministers on a possible review of wild land areas, amid concern that the designation may hamper future development.
He said: “What is today considered wild land supported human communities not so long ago, and we hope could do so again one day.
“I think it very telling that those who live and work on the land are worried about how the concept of wildness could now threaten their future ability to develop.”
He said the desktop operation which produced the map meant windfarms supported by local communities were now being refused and millions of pounds in community benefits were being lost.
“Yet all the time climate change is accelerating threatening all our landscapes,” he said.
Joss Blamire, senior policy manager at industry body Scottish Renewables, called for balance. He said: “More than 20 per cent of Scotland – our National Parks and National Scenic Areas – is already deemed a no-go for wind farm developments, with the full support of industry.”
He said wild land did not rule out further development but meant increased protection to ensure developments do not have unacceptable impacts.
“If this balance is wrong Scotland will lose out on sites which will ultimately help us meet environmental objectives while benefitting our economy.”
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