Visitors to Scotland rate our landscape and scenery as a key reason for coming. But do we really look after it as best as we should?
It always seems to come second best. We apparently prefer exploitation without thinking whether it harms the scenery and ruins the cultural history bound up in our landscapes. What’s the problem and what should we do about it?
Have you passed through the new industrial landscapes? No, these are not in Lanarkshire, but in the Borders hills. Cheek by jowl with the iconic Devil’s Beeftub, being carefully and thoughtfully brought into care by the Borders Forest Trust, we see devastation caused by heavy machinery removing the blanket single species and single aged forestry to be replaced by the forest of high metal towers of wind generators. And yet this is the gateway to Scotland, by rail, road and air!
Is this the impression we want to give visitors and to all of us who are coming back home?
This is not an issue isolated to the Border hills. The wind farm on the Braes of Doune north of Stirling is planning insensitivity at its worst. Hill tracks for giving sport shooters access to the moorland are proliferating, as are tracks for felling commercial forests.
The brash left after forest felling is an unsightly mess that is just ignored. The claimed more sensitive planting of commercial forestry is barely evident anywhere. House designs take little or no account of vernacular styles. And, even more worrying is that the legislation to protect our landscapes is almost non-existent. National Scenic Areas, covering 12.7 per cent of the land area, have perfunctory protection under the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 Miscellaneous and General Provisions section 50. Hardly something we really care about therefore? The two national park authorities have responsibilities, but too often favour economic development.
Half a century after the Countryside (Scotland) Act we must do something effective to repair this gap. Despite progress on access, we act as though we do not care about our scenery and landscapes.
Political leadership is needed to implement new legislation, new policies and action to repair and protect our landscapes and scenery. SNH should take the lead, irrespective of whether the Scottish Government wants them to.
The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, alongside her support for nature, should strongly support better care for all of our landscapes and scenery. And, the environment committee of the Scottish Parliament should be helping to promote a modern approach.
All parts of government, national and local, should be promoting and achieving better care and protection of our landscapes and scenery, rather than assuming it gets in the way of economic development.
It is part of our national culture that we celebrate our landscapes and scenery; not just the very special and very best, but those that are meaningful to local communities, of places they are familiar with and care for.
Prof Roger Crofts CBE FRSE is a geographer by training. He worked in the Scottish Office for 17 years and was founder CEO of Scottish Natural Heritage