Scotland must create a unified national policy to recognise and halt the “unthinking” loss of the country’s unique and internationally important moorlands, according to a new report.
The report, for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), also calls for a rethink on Scotland’s national tree-planting policy, which aims to the see a quarter of the country covered in forests in the next 35 years.
The UK is home to three-quarters of the world’s remaining heather, most of it found north of the Border. Around 20 per cent of heather moorland disappeared between 1940 and 1970, a decline that is continuing.
Gamekeepers claim a lack of a policy vision is hastening the destruction of this iconic landscape, with huge areas being lost to afforestation and farming.
They say the Scottish Government’s forestry strategy target could see a further 5,000 square kilometres lost, as planting will have to extend to open moors.
Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA, believes the importance of moor habitats should be reflected in Scotland’s forthcoming Land Use Strategy 2016-2021, which is under consultation until the end of January.
He warned that a failure to act could put rare and threatened species at risk of extinction.
“If we continue to stumble blindly and allow our moorlands to disappear, we won’t have these species any more,” he said.
Independent ecologist Dr James Fenton, who wrote the report, said: “Perhaps because it has always seemed to be common, we tend not to value our moorland in Scotland even though it defines our upland landscapes. Our open moors and hills are our speciality, which distinguishes us from our European neighbours.
“It is surprising, therefore, that there is no strategic guidance for its conservation and that we continue to accept its loss in an ad hoc manner.
“This new document has mapped all the moorland on mainland Scotland and has identified the remaining core areas. It calls for a public debate to discuss and agree where in Scotland we want to retain our open moorland landscapes as the dominant landscape.”
Politicians have welcomed the new report and calls for the creation of a moorland strategy.
“It is an interesting idea that should be investigated,” said Claudia Beamish, Scottish Labour and Co-operative Party MSP for South of Scotland.
“We need to ask what we want for our remote regions of Scotland in terms of sustainable development. That includes what sort of future we want for rural communities.”
Jamie McGrigor, Conservative MSP for the Highland and Islands, said: “Forests are important, but of equal importance is the magnificent open scenery Scotland is famous for.”