Conservation ‘is like the Highland Clearances’

Protection of birds and land is hurting communities and jobs, claims MSP. Picture: PA

Protection of birds and land is hurting communities and jobs, claims MSP. Picture: PA

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SWATHES of the Highlands are being hit by “conservation Clearances”, with more effort being put into protecting rare species than dealing with declining populations, it has been claimed.

SNP MSP Rob Gibson has compared the “threat to human breeding pairs” to the situation regarding birds of prey and natural heritage sites, which are given special protection under law.

‘Local people are the most endangered species’

He argues that giving environmental protection to vast areas of land stands in the way of developments that could create jobs, strengthen communities and encourage people to move into sparsely populated regions.

The result is that fewer people choose to bring up families in the affected areas, where the use of protected land is restricted. In one part of Sutherland – the villages of Bettyhill, Strathy and Melvich – there are only 75 families with school-age children.

Dwindling numbers of families puts vulnerable communities at greater risk, Gibson believes, and in the long term they might not be sustainable.

The population of the three villages has dropped from 2,557 in 1901 to 1,000 in 2001 – a decline of 60 per cent.

Gibson was speaking to Scotland on Sunday ahead of a public inquiry later this month into plans by energy company SSE to build a £100 million wind farm at Strathy South, a move supported by the local community. It would expand the current Strathy North scheme, which has created jobs and generates more than £4m for the local community. Several environmental bodies oppose the 39-turbine development claiming that it would despoil an internationally important conservation area and threaten a number of rare bird species.

Gibson said: “Local people value their natural heritage but they also need homes and jobs. Local people have claimed they are the most endangered species in the far north. Ahead of this enquiry, several large conservation organisations solely display concern for breeding pairs of birds.

“Humans cannot live on landscape designations alone, so a reversal of the Clearances will be needed to build sustainable communities using human ingenuity and respect for a balance of nature. Certain major conservation groups have shown scant regard for these stark facts. Their views have to be challenged.”

He added: “Without doubt, breeding pairs of humans have reached a critical level. Desktop designations of all forms of high natural heritage are actually Clearances country.”

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