Politicians urged to grasp chance to control spread of vehicle tracks

Conservation charities call on Scottish Parliament to grasp golden opportunity to introduce stronger controls over vehicle tracks in uplands

Hilltrack at ledgowan detail

Update 19 June:- A big thank you to everyone who wrote to their MSPs during the passage of Scotland's new Planning Bill asking them to support calls to change the law around track construction. Sadly, the changes proposed to the Bill by Andy Wightman MSP were voted down during the full chamber debate on 19 June.

A coalition of ten conservation charities is calling on the Scottish Parliament to grasp a golden opportunity to introduce stronger controls over vehicle tracks in our hills.

The Scottish Parliament is set to vote this week on Planning Bill amendments* by Scottish Green Party MSP Andy Wightman, designed to close loopholes that allow landowners to build many of the controversial tracks without planning permission.

Research by Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks group has found that the tracks continue to creep further into wilder landscapes, and that planning loopholes can lead to them being badly-sited and designed.

Some have even been built over the top of narrow, low-impact trails and historical routes, with little chance for the public to comment in advance.

Helen Todd, co-convenor of LINK Hilltracks group and Ramblers Scotland’s campaigns and policy manager, said: “There is a compelling case for stronger controls over vehicle roads in our hills – to boost local democracy, improve construction standards and protect precious environments.  For too long, landowners have been able to expand tracks further and further into wild landscapes with little oversight from authorities or the public."

Lovers of Scotland’s outdoors are being encouraged to make their voices heard, by writing to MSPs using a simple online form at ramblers.org.uk/hilltracks

Beryl Leatherland, co-convenor of the group and also convenor of Scottish Wild Land Group said:  - “This week’s vote offers MSPs the chance to get a grip on this damaging activity, by changing the law to protect our countryside.  We urge all hillgoers to email their MSPs to raise their concerns using this easy website link.” 

Scottish Environment LINK’s Hilltracks group includes Ramblers Scotland, RSPB Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wild Land Group, John Muir Trust, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorms Campaign, North East Mountain Trust, Scottish Campaign for National Parks and Scottish Wild Land Group.

Mr Wightman’s previous amendments to tackle the spread of hill tracks were voted down by a seven-person committee last time November, but this time all 129 MSPs can vote. His latest amendments would require full planning consent for tracks:-

  • in Scotland’s two National Parks
  • on all land used mainly for shooting or other field sports.
  • in Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • in designated battlefield sites
  • and in National Scenic Areas

* see pages 32-34 for the full wording of the amendments.

After decades of campaigning from environment and recreation bodies, the Scottish Government launched a new system in 2014 requiring landowners to tell authorities before building agricultural and forestry tracks – but generally full planning permission is not required.  

Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland's voluntary environment community, with over 35 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.