Wild land, near and far, needs protection

Suggested core areas of wild land stretch to the north and south of Talla reservoir
Suggested core areas of wild land stretch to the north and south of Talla reservoir

We want a rethink on protected wild land and something that takes into account the Borders, councillors will tell Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Elected members agreed to SNH’s suggested two big core areas of wild land between the Yarrow and Tweed valleys at their executive meeting last Thursday.

But they decided to ask the government body to re-evaluate and look at smaller areas and at “relatively wild land” in the region, both of which should also be protected.

SNH guidelines set the core areas to be at least 500 square kilometres, which is too big for the Borders, they said.

Other criteria were “naturalness”, “ruggedness”, “remoteness from public roads”, and “absence of modern artefacts”.

Councillor Stuart Bell said the “rugged” element made the assessment process “prejudiced” in favour of the Highlands and Islands. Hawick councillor and planning chairman Ron Smith told TheSouthern that 38 of SNH’s proposed wild land areas are in the north and west, with just five in southern Scotland: “That’s a policy that would favour protection of the Highlands and Islands rather than the Borders and Southern Uplands. We feel there is a risk there would be a displacement of such activity as wind farms.

“We are asking that a more comprehensive study is done in the context of the Borders and saying the minimum size of area does not have to be 500 square kilometres.”

They would give SNH the examples of the Cheviot hills and ground between Selkirk and Traquair.

Environment director Rob Dickson said in his report to councillors: “Local areas of wildness may not be as ‘rugged’ or as ‘challenging’ as the core areas of wild land, and they tend not to be as remote from public roads. However, it is the relative wildness of these areas that is critical because it is where people can ‘escape’ to from centres of population.”

They “have a high societal value because they strike the balance between relative wildness and accessibility to the population,” he said.

And “it can be argued that these are the areas which may be under the greatest threat from inappropriate development because they are already small or fragmented and may already have development close by.

“It is critical to protect these areas from all types of inappropriate development and to attach the necessary weight to ensure protection, ” he said.

SNH suggests the wild land sections should be “areas of significant protection” in relation to wind farm developments, but says ministers do not intend to legislate for the new environmental designations.

Mr Dickson said he had “significant concerns” about that, adding: “The focus is too narrow: there are a number of types of development that would be inappropriate in core areas of wild land (and local areas of relative wildness).”

Councillor Vicky Davidson said protection should also apply if large -scale afforestation was proposed.

One of the Borders suggested core area of wild land stretches south from Megget reservoir, taking in Molls Cleuch Dod, Black Rig, Din Law, and Hart Fell and tops above the A708. The other, north of Talla, includes the Borders highest hill, Broad Law, Dollar Law, White Cleuch and Black Law among others.