Protecting our wild land

For those of us who live in the Highlands, one of the greatest things we cherish is the stunning landscape that surrounds us. We know that visitors from across the world travel to Lochaber to experience this diverse landscape. Unlike many other countries, that special landscape and in particular the wildest places remain unprotected from inappropriate development.

This week, my colleagues on the Northern Planning Area Committee objected to plans for wind farms in remote Sutherland. That decision forces the matter to be considered at Public Inquiry. Under current planning laws, councillors find it difficult to defend our wild places. A strong environmental designation, defining and mapping Scotland’s last remaining wild area would provide real protection.

The John Muir Trust is one of our leading environmental charities; they own and manage land in Glen Nevis, including the summit of Ben Nevis. The Trust has spearheaded a campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to take action now. This will receive further publicity, next week, when the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee debates the issue. Ahead of that meeting, I have written to the Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, urging him to introduce a wild land designation.

If you have ten minutes to spare, you can also write to the minister and our Highlands MSPs, highlighting this important campaign. The John Muir Trust website has all the details including a template letter you can use.

Letter to Paul Wheelhouse MSP
Minister for Environment & Climate Change

Dear Mr Wheelhouse,

You will be aware of the decision by the Highland Council’s Northern Planning Area Committee to raise an objection, against proposals to erect wind turbines at Glenmorie and Dalnessie in Sutherland. Once again, this illustrates the need for the Scottish Government to strengthen our planning framework, by providing protection for Scotland’s wildest places through a robust environmental designation.

As a Highland councillor, representing an area with a significant amount of wild land, as mapped by Scottish Natural Heritage, I am acutely aware of the developmental pressure our communities face. There is considerable anger and frustration, that our wild land remains unprotected from inappropriate development. Over half of Scotland’s wildest land has no statutory protection and is therefore at risk as development pressures increase.

Next week the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee will consider petition PE1383, submitted by The John Muir Trust. This calls for a new national environmental designation to protect the wildest parts of Scotland. There is strong public support for this action – according to a major survey completed in July 2012, 86 per cent of the public surveyed believe further action is needed to preserve wild land in Scotland. Of those who believe that further action is needed to protect Scotland’s wild land, the most widely supported measure was the introduction of a “wild land” designation.

In this, the Year of Natural Scotland, the Scottish Government has a fantastic opportunity to take action for Scotland’s wild land and secure its protection for future generations. Without better protection, we could lose our last areas of wild land and renowned natural landscapes, including those areas in Lochaber. I urge you to take action to protect our last wild land and extend an invitation to visit Lochaber to see the special landscape you would be protecting.

Yours sincerely,

Councilor Andrew Baxter

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