Andy Wightman attempts to close loop hole that allows grouse moor owners to abuse hill tracks legislation

One of the long-running consequences of intensive grouse moor management has been the bulldozing of hill tracks, predominantly created to enable gamekeepers easier access to carry out their wildlife killing duties but also to transport wealthy guests direct to their designated grouse butt to save them the bother of walking up there across the moor.

Thousands of kilometres of these tracks have been built in often sensitive upland environments and many campaigners have spent years outlining their concerns about the damage caused to sensitive vegetation and soils, about the visual impacts to environmental amenity, about the increased disturbance to wildlife, about the initiation of erosion leading to silt run-off in to waterways, and about the destruction of large areas of peatland and subsequent loss of stored carbon.

[An example of a bulldozed hill track across moorland in the Angus Glens. Photo from Chris Townsend’s blog on the devastation caused]

Grouse moor owners are currently able to build these tracks without planning permission. As Andy Wightman explained in this November 2018 article in The National: ‘The core issue is that tracks built for the purposes of agriculture and forestry do not have to apply for full planning permission. They are, in the jargon, permitted developments and cannot ultimately be refused. Tracks built for hunting are meant to secure full planning approval but are all too often built under the guise of agricultural purposes. A few sheep on the hill is enough to prevent planning authorities being able to challenge such obvious fabrications‘.

There is currently a Planning Bill going through the Scottish Parliament and Andy Wightman is trying to amend it to close this loophole. However, so far the SNP and Tories have blocked his efforts.

For further details, please see this page on the Scottish Greens website.

The Scottish Greens are asking you to email your MSP to ask them to support Andy’s amendment. There is a simple box to fill out on the Scottish Greens website that will record your submission.

Unfortunately, the forthcoming Werritty Review, which is assessing various aspects of grouse moor management, is NOT considering the issue of hill tracks. Andy’s amendment looks like the only real opportunity to bring about change in the foreseeable future. Let’s not waste that chance.


14 Responses to “Andy Wightman attempts to close loop hole that allows grouse moor owners to abuse hill tracks legislation”

  1. 1 Harry Bickerstaff
    June 2, 2019 at 11:59 am

    It’s great that Andy Wightman is taking this on, as there are tracks being bulldozed all over our glens and mountains, in the name of ‘agriculture’ which everyone knows, is really access for driven grouse shooters, to save them walking up a hill. The estates tell us, it is to help make the poor shepherds lives a lot easier, but fail to mention, that even the sheep on the moors, are a token, so that the grouse muir owners can claim it is for ‘Agricultural Purposes’ and claim the appropriate grants. It really is simply countryside vandalism and I wish Andy well, in his efforts.

  2. 2 Loki
    June 2, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Well done, Andy, taking these buggers to task over this. I was in the Angus Glens recently and my own back yard looks more wild – all I saw up there were burnt hills, endless bulldozed tracks and a scowling gamekeeper on a quad.
    Signed the link and written to local MSPs.

    On another note – I was wondering if we could look in muir burn for any deceased adders? They are a protected species and must surely succumb to muir burn when they hibernate in the winter?

  3. 3 Dougie
    June 2, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Good on Andy for his efforts.

    The question has to be asked – Why has no one acted to stop the endless damage and disfigurement to our countryside and wild places that has been caused by this vandalism.

    “However, so far the SNP and Tories have blocked his efforts”. Well, well, does that not tell a story. The same damned bunch who are failing to protect our wildlife are also failing to protect our hillsides. Anyone care to guess why ?

  4. 5 sog
    June 2, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Is there anything that those of us outside Scotland can do?

  5. June 2, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Good luck with this…the amount of erosion around such tracks is horrendous – not just for grouse shooting, some of the upland forestry planting tracks round here in Dumfriesshire are just as bad.Yet another cause of increased turbidity smothering fry and eggs and insect larvae in streams and rivers, when the soil gets washed away. The whole issue of land use planning and enforcement needs a radical shake-up.

  6. 7 Stuart MacKay
    June 2, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    If you want Andy to keep up the good work perhaps you could consider a donation to his defending defamation crowdfunder, https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/legal-costs-of-defending-a-defamation-action. If he loses the case and has to declare bankruptcy his role as MSP will come to an abrupt end.

    • 8 J .Coogan
      June 3, 2019 at 11:06 am

      Excellent point if we loose him (and the powerful and privileged and the lazy bastards in government who are quite happy with the status quo and cant be arsed looking at any progressive moves would love to see the back of him) who would stand up for the countryside. He would be a tremendous loss , get your hands in your pockets across Britain that’s how people in England can help.

  7. 9 Jimmy
    June 2, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Its likely such tracks add significantly to erosion in such areas and therefore flooding in the valleys below

  8. 10 Michael Dunn
    June 2, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    In April, I walked from Fettercairn to Ballater. In landscape terms this was a depressing experience. Extensive, over-engineered roads everywhere – far more than could ever be required for sporting purposes, let alone agriculture. In places (between Sturdy Hill and Murmannoch) attempts have been made to drive a road through deep peat with most destructive results. New fencing abounds which seems to have necessitated excessive ATV access. A wasteland is the result, particularly as no effort has been made to remove either the old fencing or excess new materials. Rubbish is everywhere along the fence line including dumped cement bags and single use 1 tonne woven bags. In places the fence is about 15 feet high!! In the vicinity of Mount Battock roads have been recently upgraded which dominate the landscape. Shooting butts have been constructed just off the road using urban construction techniques – no shortage of cash here. The estates here show complete contempt for the lands they enjoy custody of and in my view are unworthy of the trust land ownership should entail. Needless to say, no wildlife, though things improved around Mt Keen (mountain hares). I did see one raven – inside a Larsen Trap!!

    • 11 Bimbling
      June 3, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      I’m not sure but I think ravens are not allowed as decoy birds so if you’re certain, then a call to the local WLO or 101 is needed.

  9. 12 Harris Keillar
    June 3, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Written to my MSPs. No response from Tories or SNP yet. Land use / abuse is an area I find the SNP surprisingly craven about, though I suspect that is because Fergus Ewing is so keen on the status quo.

    • 13 Dougie
      June 4, 2019 at 9:46 am

      I am not surprised at all.
      Lily-livered politicians who purport to be one thing, but are actually another. Par for the course with the bulk of these people.

  10. 14 Andy Mitchell
    June 14, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    I emailed my MSP (who I know well anyway) via the Scottish Greens website as you suggested and have just received a reply. Liam McArthur (LibDem, Orkney) has pledged his support thus “I agree that there appear to be deficiencies in the current planning process for these tracks and that the current Bill presents an opportunity to address this. Our natural landscapes and wild land are cherished environmental, cultural and economic assets. There need to be safeguards to protect them, including oversight of developments including hill tracks.
    I can confirm that I will support these amendments when the Planning Bill comes before parliament for Stage 3 (final) consideration during the week beginning 17 June.”. Good man!

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