Environment groups call for laws to stop ‘out of control’ new tracks

Vehicle tracks for agriculture do no need planning permission but often leave unsightly and highly visible scars on the landscape. Picture: contributed
Vehicle tracks for agriculture do no need planning permission but often leave unsightly and highly visible scars on the landscape. Picture: contributed
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The creation of unsightly vehicle tracks cutting through some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes is getting “out of control” and should be urgently curtailed, a report has warned.

Existing laws should be strengthened to prevent hill tracks causing further damage to the nation’s scenery, the three-year study by a coalition of environmental groups said.

The tracks, which are used by agricultural vehicles to access remote and rural land, are often visible to walkers as they are created at high altitudes in open areas.

Since 2014 landowners have been required to give notice before constructing new hill tracks, but the Scottish Government stopped short of forcing them to gain permission.

The Scottish Environment Link group, which brings together nine separate charities, said the law should be tightened through an amendment to the forthcoming Planning Bill.

Its report says the tracks are beginning to push “further and further” into wild landscapes around Scotland, with many poorly sited and badly designed so they are highly visible.

It adds that some of the tracks have been built over the top of existing, low-impact trails, including important historical routes and traditional stalkers’ paths, some of which are centuries old.

Hill tracks which are constructed for agricultural land are currently classed as “permitted developments” that do not require planning permission.

But the report claims some tracks are being built to support field sports such as deer stalking and grouse shooting, meaning they should not qualify for the exemption.

The group is backing an amendment to the Planning Bill proposed by Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman, which would close this loophole and also require full permission for any tracks in national parks, sites of special scientific interest or historic battlefields.

Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland, who helped to compile the report, said it made a “compelling case” for changing the law so the “ugly” and “damaging” tracks could not be created so easily.

“For too long, landowners have been able to expand tracks further and further into wild landscapes with limited oversight from the public or authorities,” she added.

But Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners, said it believed the current system was “working well” and warned of rising costs for rural businesses if the law was tightened.

“Hill tracks are a vital component to many rural businesses across Scotland without which many jobs and therefore communities could not be sustained,” a spokesman said.