Ugly scars or vital access routes?

By Huw Williams
BBC Scotland reporter

Image caption, Ramblers Scotland say this track near Lochaber illustrates the problem

MSPs are to debate calls for tougher controls on hill-top tracks and deer fencing in the Highlands.

It follows concern from ramblers and mountaineers, who argue that bulldozed roads are ugly scars, which threaten wilderness areas.

They want a review of the system which means most estates can carry out minor developments without planning permission

But land-owners said they needed access routes to manage upland areas.

Image caption, Helen Todd from Ramblers Scotland says tracks are a "scar" on hills

Helen Todd from Ramblers Scotland told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that Scotland's upland areas are "our national heritage".

She said ramblers were concerned about bulldozers going "into areas where there's never been a bulldozer before, areas where you can still see landforms laid down from the Ice Age".

The tracks are built under a scheme known as "Permitted Development Rights", which means local planning authorities do not have any say on them.

But Helen Todd said: "They are actually major, significant developments. They can be seen for miles around. And we'd like them to be brought into the planning system."

Land-owners and rural businesses said the scale of the problem had been exaggerated, and requiring estates to get planning permission would slow down vital repairs and overwhelm local councils.

Image caption, Anne Gray from SRPBA says guidelines are enough to promote good practice

Anne Gray from the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association told the programme: "The vast majority of hill tracks in Scotland have been around for at least a couple of centuries."

She also claimed there is no such thing as wilderness in Scotland.

Ms Gray said the hillsides where the tracks are built are "managed landscapes".

"Very attractive landscapes. Very valued landscapes, and quite rightly so." she added.

"But they are dynamic working landscapes. People earn their living from the uplands."

"And we're seeing progression. These tracks were originally sheep tracks. They developed into pony tracks. And now they're being upgraded for vehicle use."

She accepted that some farmers and land-owners may get it wrong.

But, she said, her organisation "would favour an approach where we look at Best Practice guidance so that we get better practice coming out from within the sector."

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