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 tracks 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 our quick online form.”

Scottish Environmental 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 November, but this time all 129 MSPs can vote.

The 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
  • in National Scenic Areas.

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.

Images courtesy of Scottish Environment LINK’s Hilltracks group