The John Muir Trust conservation charity has launched a campaign to protect Scotland’s wild lands which, it says, face the threat of industrial-scale developments.
The trust’s Keep It Wild drive comes in the light of growing public support for the view the nation’s wilderness areas should gain special protection from major projects such as windfarms.
The trust said it is concerned about the outcome of a judicial review into the first decision to allow the building of a windfarm on a designated wild land area at Creag Riabhach near Altnaharra.
The charity, named after the Scottish-born pioneer of national parks, is calling on the Scottish Government to use the forthcoming Planning Bill to give wild land areas protection from industrial-scale development, similar to that already in place for windfarms in national parks and national scenic areas.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh will shortly deliver its verdict on the decision that would allow the development of 22 turbines up to 125m tall, including five within wild land area 37.
The John Muir Trust said: “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 released a new YouGov poll which revealed 80 per cent backed the proposition that Scotland’s wild land areas should receive continued protection from large-scale infrastructure development.
A majority – 52 per cent – ‘strongly agreed’ 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 ‘tended to agree’.
Only five per cent ‘tended to disagree’ with this wild land protection, while the number who ‘strongly disagreed’ is negligible, registering zero per cent in the YouGov poll.
Of the remainder, 12 per cent ‘neither agreed nor disagreed’ with the proposals, with three per cent undecided.
The trust said 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.
There are 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. But the John Muir Trust said 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 Alltnaharra has created uncertainty about the continued protection of wild land areas into the future.
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 windfarms, 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 windfarm 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 one, it’s hard to think of any other public issue which commands such a universal consensus across age groups, geographical regions and social classes.”
A similar YouGov poll run in 2013 found 40 per cent of respondents strongly supported the Scottish Government’s proposals that Scotland’s wild land should be given special protection from inappropriate development, for example wind farms.
The JMT said, with the current finding that 52 per cent strongly agree wild land areas should continue to be protected from large-scale infrastructure, this would suggest a rise in strong support for the proposal.
A number of other major windfarms are 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.
YouGov sampled 1,028 Scottish adults for the latest poll over five days in May. For the 2013 survey, total sample size was 1,119 Scottish adults. Both surveys were carried out online and have were weighted to be representative of all Scottish adults aged 18 or older.
The John Muir Trust recently had to pay £50,000 to an energy company in legal costs after losing a legal appeal against a judicial review of the decision to approve the Stronelairg windfarm in the Monadhliath Mountains. It also had to pay £75,000 to the Scottish Government over the case.
Scottish and Southern Energy said it would donate the money from its settlement to Visit Inverness Loch Ness, a not-for-profit organisation in the Great Glen for a project to complete a walking and cycling trail round the whole of Loch Ness.
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