A new map showing the main areas of wild land in Scotland has been published today by Scottish Natural Heritage, the first time this has been done in the UK. This should be an aid to future planning decisions. The data's now there, but what are we going to do with it? An announcement this afternoon suggests that the SNP Government are finally considering preventing new wind farms in key scenic areas.
The map, which can be viewed here, shows 43 areas with the strongest wild land character, totalling approximately 20% of the country's land mass. It incorporates the previously identified search areas for wild land, which amounted to 13% of Scotland, plus some additional areas beyond those.
These named areas range in size from the massive 157,996ha of the Cairngorms to Rum's 4229ha, and can be found across the country from core parts of the Southern Uplands to Ronas Hill & North Roe in the Shetland Islands.
SNH took a three-phased approached to mapping wild land. Phase one mapped four physical attributes identified in SNH's policy statement: 'perceived naturalness', 'ruggedness', 'remoteness from public roads', and 'absence of modern artefacts'. From these, the organisation produced a 'map of relative wildness' for all of Scotland, from the least to most wild. The second phase of the project analysed this data to identify the largest and most wild areas. The final stage then used 'informed judgement' to select the areas of wild land character, taking into account limitations with the GIS methodology, and identify provisional boundaries. These are shown in the new wild land map.
The map is a result of SNH's ongoing work to advise Scottish Government and others on the extent and location of the wild land resource in Scotland. It takes a 'systematic and robust' approach to analysing how people experience wildness in the landscape. The map will help government and local authorities to take account of wild land in development planning, and eventually replace the map of search areas for wild land produced in 2002.
Andrew Bachell, SNH director of operations, said:
'Wild land is an incredibly valuable asset for Scotland. It makes an important contribution to our tourism industry and images of wild places also help support Scotland's world wide reputation as a beautiful and impressive country. It makes a crucial contribution to our quality of life and we know that most Scots consider wild places to be important to them. Wild land also supports biodiversity and is often associated with our most impressive wildlife.'
'Like all natural assets this resource must be managed sensitively if it is to be sustained. Our new map will enable planners and developers to take account of wild land, particularly in planning future windfarm and any other large scale developments. We wish to share this map as widely as possible with stakeholders, particularly in the context of the Scottish Government's consultation on its third National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy.'
SNH has for many years advised planning authorities and developers on the landscape and natural heritage issues to be considered when planning for new development. Scottish Planning Policy recognises the sensitivity of areas of wild land character, and requires planning authorities to safeguard them, though the extent to which this currently happens is debatable. In keeping with Scottish Planning Policy, the organisation has consistently advised against wind farm development which would adversely affect the character of the country's wildest landscapes.
Conservation groups and lovers of wild country are likely to welcome this development, which looks likely to bolster the case against the more intrusive power projects currently in the pipeline.
It remains to be seen what effect - if any - the new map may have on the Scottish Government's unalloyed enthusiasm for wind farms. But in a possible sign of a change of heart from the SNP administration, Planning Minister Derek Mackay has separately announced a proposed planning revamp this afternoon.
The third National Planning Framework (NPF3) and draft Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) will influence development plans across Scotland and guide future planning decisions on a range of sectors including transport, energy and infrastructure.
Under these draft proposals, Scottish Planning Policy will for the first time include references to the SNH wild land map. In addition, Ministers propose extending the separation distance between wind farms and cities, towns and villages.
Proposals also include strengthening environmental protection in Scotland's wildest and most scenic land, including no wind farms in the 19 per cent of Scotland covered by National Parks and National Scenic Areas (shouldn't that already have applied, by definition? Ed.).
'We want to hear the views of the people of Scotland and will reflect carefully on all responses received' said the Minister. 'I want this process to be as inclusive as possible so we can come together to agree our priorities.'
A series of public events will be held around the country in coming months, giving people the chance to have their say on the proposed planning changes.