Opposing wild land industrialisation: it’s time for a new approach

We need a unified, politically realistic, campaign against the industrialisation of Highland wild land.

In a recent blog post, an experienced participant in the cross-country TGO Challenge, commented on the industrialisation of the Highland landscape. There has been extensive development of wind farms and small scale hydro schemes and the bulldozing of tracks to support these and the expansion of grouse shooting.

I completely agree with him about the dreadful industrialisation of the Highlands (and grouse shooting). However, the problem that we face is that both the UK and the Scottish Government have democratic legitimacy for their ‘green’ energy policies. Our largely urbanised population simply do not care about rural development unless it happens to affect them personally. People on the edge of cities may object to a local wind farm development that spoils their view but will not object to development on ‘wild land’. Outdoor folks may complain all they wish but many more people holiday in the sun rather than in the Monadliaths so it’s just not an issue to them.

Only a fool would deny the possibility that human actions are likely to be contributing to climate change. We certainly don’t fully understand this but a sensible approach is to be cautious and to reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Governments can claim that policies that increase the proportion of ‘green’ energy generation contribute to greenhouse gas reduction and so introduce policies to this end that are endorsed by the electorate. Politicians are, of course, rarely consistent. There does not seem to be any political support for greenhouse gas reduction by, for example, drastically reducing beef consumption. This would be unpopular with the meat-eating public and with farmers, who enjoy positive public support.

The lesson is that, if we wish to conserve the Scottish landscape, we have to recognise the political realities. It is pointless to say ‘all wind farms should be banned’ because this simply won’t happen. Rather, we have to identify more gradualist approaches that will not antagonise urban voters and that have the potential to gain the sympathy of politicians.

I think we have to identify a small number of winnable battles and focus resources on these. Four that come to mind and have the potential to succeed in Scotland are:

  1. A campaign to extend the Scottish Wild Land Map to cover areas in eastern and southern Scotland and a larger area of Mull and Skye. Furthermore, Scottish National Heritage should be required to include members from bodies such as the John Muir Trust in any decisions to change the map.
  2. A requirement that companies who are developing wind farm and hydro schemes must contribute a percentage of the income gained to a general restoration fund. This should be independently managed with the aim of restoring landscape damage caused by previous development.
  3. An absolute requirement that landscape reparation should be contractual with joint responsibility help by the owners and the developers of the scheme. There should be an independent body funded to assess whether or not the reparation promises made by developers have been kept.
  4. The banning of driven grouse shooting in Scotland. This damages the landscape and, many cases, reduces the diversity of other wildlife and plants. I doubt that there would be much public opposition to such a ban.

Those of us who would like to see change must acknowledge that this is a long game and that an immediate focus on limiting the effects of development is more likely to succeed than total prohibition. By starting with the politically realistic, we will have a springboard for long-term change.

We need a broad engagement that will inevitably include people whose political views differ. Unless campaigners are prepared to work together rather than snipe at each other because they disagree about politics we have no chance of success. Blaming the SNP or the Tory Governments will simply antagonise their supporters. This is not a party political issue. We have to avoid impoliteness, derogatory remarks and strident campaigning. These are less effective than reasoned argument and the savvy use of the media.

My view is that the best group to coordinate and argue for change are the John Muir Trust. They already have the ear of politicians but they are under-resourced and, frankly, not very good at promoting their message to the broader public. They may also be somewhat constrained by their charity status. However, they are currently the best that we have and should be supported.

I’d be interested in their views.

One thought on “Opposing wild land industrialisation: it’s time for a new approach

  • July 14, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    A well thought out and measured argument. I would absolutely agree with the approach you suggest – compromise is needed – railing against every scheme won’t have any effect and as you say both governments have been democratically elected.
    I saw plenty of examples of new tracks and hydro schemes on this year’s Challenge. Even saw a notice board near Loch Ossian implying the wide tracks would be narrowed and repaired but it appeared the scheme was completed in 2015 and the track was still wide and industrial. Have you thought of putting your suggestion to the JMT more formally?


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