National Scenic Areas debated in Scottish Parliament

Trust backed petition asks for better protection for Scotland’s landscapes

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Scotland’s National Scenic Areas and whether there should be more of them was debated last week by MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

Earlier this year the Trust had encouraged members to add their name to a petition lodged by Christine Metcalfe, on behalf of Avich & Kilchrenan Community Council in Argyll & Bute, calling for a review of the process for designation of NSAs and consideration of the potential for more NSAs to protect the natural landscape and support the tourism sector.

There are 40 National Scenic Areas (NSAs) in Scotland, covering 13% of Scotland’s land mass.  According to Scottish Natural Heritage they represent Scotland’s finest landscapes - mountain areas such as the Skye Cuillins, Ben Nevis and Glencoe, dramatic island landscapes like the Hebrides and Northern Isles, as well as some gentler landscapes in places like Perthshire, the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.  The purpose of the NSA designation is to identify Scotland’s finest scenery and to ensure it is protected from inappropriate development.

In the evidence session before the Committee Christine was accompanied by Alan Mitchell (Avich and Kilchrenan Community Council) and by Douglas Wynn, a Trustee of the John Muir Trust though here acting in an individual capacity.

Christine highlighted to the Committee how the founding document of NSAs suggested that landscape conservation should be open to revision but that, to date, this has not happened, and the 40 NSAs remain as originally mapped in 1978.  She noted how a previous petition in 2015 had called for NSA status for Loch Ness and the Great Glen but the Scottish Government had said it had no plans to designate any further NSAs, a position re-stated late in 2016 in answer to a Parliamentary Question.

The scale and rapid spread of major developments - largely but not exclusively wind farm construction - in Scotland’s most sensitive and vulnerable scenic areas required, Christine argued, a “much more dynamic policy response from the Scottish Government than reliance on a four-decade old mapping of protected landscapes.”  She felt that there are a number of potential candidates for new designations, but cited Loch Awe in Argyll specifically as an example of an increasingly rare, tranquil environment in an unspoilt landscape.  Designation, she argued, would be greatly welcomed by the tourism industry, visitors and residents alike

Douglas Wynn highlighted the dramatic rise in the areas of Scotland from which large industrial structures are visible.  The lack of any revision of the NSAs in the light of these changing circumstances and pressure on landscape gives, he argued, strong justification for action.  Wild Land Areas had recently been introduced but such was the extent of change in the built environment that there is a case for the number and precise mapping of NSAs at least to be reconsidered.

In concluding the session, MSPs agreed to write to the Scottish Government to ask why it is not reviewing the NSAs process.  Whilst the Convenor felt that the petitioners see a review of the NSA process as an opportunity to open up a conversation about the impact of wind farms he considered it was “entirely legitimate for them to ask whether the Government is not reviewing the process because of its policy on wind farms” and that the potential conflict for the Government between landscape protection and renewable energy policy would be worthy of further discussion.

The Committee agreed to keep the petition open pending replies from the Scottish Government in response to these issues.  Views will also be sought from Scottish Natural Heritage and COSLA.

You can read a full transcript of the meeting here

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Want to Keep it Wild? Add your support to our campaign to give Scotland’s Wild Land Areas the same protection from wind farms as National Parks and National Scenic areas

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Image credit: Mark Hamblin / Vision2020. The Cuillin mountains, photographed from Trust land on Skye, are in a National Scenic Area.