Construction of remote hill tracks 'needs better regulation'

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Media captionCampaigners say some tracks cause a "blot on the landscape"

Unregulated construction of hill tracks on remote Scottish hillsides has resulted in "environmental vandalism", according to campaigners.

Nine environmental groups, including Ramblers Scotland, the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group, have come together to call for a law change.

They want landowners to have planning consent before building hill tracks.

Planning minister Derek Mackay said he would review the planning powers in place and ensure adequate enforcement.

Helen Todd, the co-convenor of the campaign group, said: "Following a public campaign this summer when we asked Scottish hill walkers to send up photos of tracks they saw while out in the countryside, we have put together a report showing compelling evidence of the damage being caused by the unregulated construction of these tracks.

"Tracks are dug deep into peat, destroying fragile and sensitive habitats and disturbing wildlife. You no longer even need to get out of your car to see these tracks, which are proliferating across our hills and causing a massive blot on the landscape."

Land managers say hill tracks were vital and argued that most already required planning consent.

Tim Baynes, of Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, said: "The central allegation in today's report that landowners build hill tracks without any public oversight is simply not true.

"While there are some circumstances where a formal planning application is not necessary, the reality is that there are many safeguards in place, particularly in relation to protected sites.

"Hill tracks provide farmers with vital, safe vehicular access to feed and check their livestock, particularly in winter when snow is on the ground.

"Once a route has been established, it will naturally be used by others including gamekeepers, those monitoring wildlife and their habitats, recreational users, mountain rescue teams and firefighters."

Image caption Wildlife and habitats could be at risk, according to campaigners

The local government and planning minister, Derek Mackay, has said he would be reviewing the permitted development rights system, which allows landowners to construct vehicle tracks for agricultural or forestry operations without having to apply for planning permission.

Mr Mackay told BBC Scotland: "I will be looking again at the planning powers that we have in place to ensure there is adequate enforcement.

"I asked to see the evidence and I have seen more evidence of people ignoring the guidance and planning policies.

"There is a careful balance to be struck between realising the economic opportunities, such as in agriculture, and protecting the environment."

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