Home Tags Posts tagged with "Highlands and Islands"

Highlands and Islands

Could a place like Wick lose out?

This is a personal view by Andrew Paterson following the announcement that the Royal Mail would be sold by the Government

Why would anyone buy a company and invest money when the costs, the service levels, including frequency, timescales and geographical coverage, and the prices that can be charged, are all determined by someone else?

Well, they probably would not unless they had a clear view that changes were likely to become possible very soon after assuming ownership. That is exactly what we should expect as soon as the Royall Mail is sold. The owners will immediately prevail upon the Government to make the necessary changes in the law.

Within ten years we will see the following:

    The Postal Service Act 2011 will be rescinded,
    There will be one class of service (no Second Class),
    Different price zones with rural deliveries at least trebling in price,
    No deliveries in some areas (about 20% of the country),
    Deliveries only three times a week (50% of country)
    No Saturday deliveries,
    No door to door service in some zones,
    - Delivery to road end boxes in country areas,
    - Collection from depots/POs in some areas
    There will be fewer postmen, and significant numbers will be on zero-hour contracts.
    All employee terms (salaries, pensions, and benefits) will be eroded.
    In particular pensions will be significantly reduced going forward. The taxpayer is picking up current commitments.
    Assets/property will be sold off.

Note the following:

The Royal Mail is now in profit. At current profit/surplus levels the Royal Mail will return to its new owners the entire purchase price within three years or less, assuming continuing growth in online purchasing.

Will places like Assynt continue to have a regular mail service?

Will places like Assynt continue to have a regular mail service?

Although the politicians have quoted “a drop in letters”, the reality is that the number of letters handled by the Royal Mail nearly trebled from 1950 to 2010, the actual figures rising from 8 billion in 1950 to 22 billion in 2010 (RM figures). Of course volumes have been recently dented as the Government opened the market on unfair terms allowing private carriers to use the Royal Mail on the cheap. This had the effect of subsidising the operations and profits of the likes of UKMail from the taxpayer’s pocket.

The swift development of on-line purchasing has resulted in lots of parcels, big (toasters) and small (DVDs) being despatched in ever-increasing volumes. This business will grow five times over in the next twenty years. The Royal Mail business is set to boom.

Having spent taxpayer’s money turning round the Royal Mail, the Government is now giving it away. This reverses the usual commercial sense where you keep profitable businesses and sell the unprofitable. This is to take the plan on the terms set out by the Government, that is, to treat the Royal Mail as merely another business, when it is a service and a pretty wonderful one at that.

If the Royal Mail were a place it would be a UN World Heritage Site.

Some companies won’t deliver to the Islands

The question of delivery charges has long been a source of complaint, especially in rural Scotland.

Fergus Ewing MSP

Fergus Ewing MSP

Last year,the Scottish government even held “parcel summit” to discuss the issue. It was chaired by the Enterprise Minister, Fergus Ewing, and included some of the companies accused of treating people in some parts of Scotland to a second-rate service. There’s already been research which confirms that, when Scots try to buy goods online, they face often punitive surcharges and, on occasion, a refusal to deliver the parcel at all.

Now, an MP has brought forward a bill in the Commons which he hopes will tackle such “unfair” delivery charges. it’s been brought forward by the MP for West Aberdeenshire, Sir Robert Smith, whose bill would make it compulsory for websites to declare any surcharges before consumers even start to browse.

It follows an intense campaign on the subject by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) which published a report at the end of last year entitled “Postcode Penalty”. This reported that more than a million people were being “routinely ripped off” by unfair delivery charges, with the islands especially hard hit. The report claimed that, on some occasions, they had to pay as much as 18.60 extra to have goods they bought online delivered – a 500% mark up on the standard delivery price. It also said that customers in the Highlands could expect to face an extra charge of £15 per delivery on average.

CAS looked at the policies of 534 retailers. 335 admitted charging extra for delivery to certain parts of the UK, almost a quarter of which applied to Scottish consumers. The report’s authors argued that consumers here were being disproportionately affected by delivery surcharges. Worst hit were those who lived on the islands. 55% of the retailers who restricted the areas of the UK to which they would deliver refused to deliver goods there. The report also found that even areas such as Aberdeenshire, Moray, Argyll and Bute and Perthshire were said to be in the Highlands and Islands for charging purposes.

Sir Robert Smith Liberal Democrat MP

Sir Robert Smith
Liberal Democrat MP

Sir Robert, a Liberal Democrat MP, launched his Fair Delivery Scotland campaign along with a petition on Monday. He called on online retailers to end excessive delivery surcharges and to make surcharges more transparent on their websites. “People in Aberdeenshire are fed up with the excessive surcharges that some online retailers charge,” he said. “This campaign is about making sure that consumers in the North East and the Highlands and Islands are no longer charged ridiculous surcharges.

“Consumers are particularly frustrated by websites that do not declare the extent of surcharges until the end of the shopping process. This is against current consumer law and if anyone has experienced this recently please do get in touch so the website can be reported to Trading Standards. However I want websites to be even more transparent and declare any surcharges before you even start shopping. That way consumers in Aberdeenshire could decide whether it’s worth their while to take the time to browse the website.”

And Margaret Lynch, CAS chief executive, added that “when we published that evidence, we received positive feedback from all the political parties, and we have continued to have useful discussions with them. “This bill gives them a new chance to say what they are actually going to do about the problem. We look forward to hearing what they have to say.”

labour3Labour has today condemned an SNP candidate who falsely claimed the backing of one of Strathclyde’s most senior serving police officers in one of his election leaflets.

It is against the law for a serving police officer to appear in election leaflets, but Kenny Gibson is photographed grinning in a custody suite with Ayrshire Divisional Commander John Thomson, under the headline “we’re always on your side”. The matter has been referred to Strathclyde Police who have confirmed that Commander Thomson was not asked for his permission, and would not have given it.

Scottish Labour has called on the SNP to reprimand Kenny Gibson and urged the party to immediately withdraw the illegal leaflets. See attached a scan of the leaflet in question.

Graeme Pearson, a retired senior police officer who is now a Labour candidate for the south of Scotland list, said:

“The constitutional position is well-established – serving officers must stand back from politics. That is a line that has been well trod for 200 years.

“I took no active part in politics until I left the service, because police must be impartial.

“It is unthinkable that the SNP don’t know the rules. Either their party’s organisation is so disorganised they have blundered, or they are deliberately trying to trick people.”

Labour candidate for Cunninghame North, Allan Wilson, said:

“The SNP have been caught red-handed engaging in a dirty tricks campaign. The SNP must immediately disown Kenny Gibson’s illegal campaigning and reprimand him for trying to claim the support of a police officer .

“SNP party bosses must explain exactly what action they will be taking against Mr Gibson to make it clear it does not condone this type of illegal campaigning.

“This is an outrageous attempt to drag the police into an election and shows how desperate the SNP have got in this area.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join in the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Scottish Labour has today welcomed the strong Labour performance in the Wick by-election, with Labour going from fifth in 2007, to second after the Lib Dem vote plummeted by 42 per cent.

The last by-election, which saw Labour increase its share of the vote by 17 per cent, saw support for the Lib Dems crumble by 9 per cent.

Scottish Labour campaign coordinator, John Park, said:

“This by-election result is a humiliating defeat for the Lib Dems who have seen their share of the vote plummet. This is a strong performance from Labour’s candidate Neil Macdonald who has taken Labour from fifth in 2007 to second.

“It is clear Labour has a fighting chance of making real gains in the Highlands and Islands.”

Michael Russell <em>Picture: Crown Copyright/Scottish Government</em>

Michael Russell Picture: Crown Copyright/Scottish Government

Michael Russell has served as secretary for education and lifelong learning since 2009, and is standing as the SNP candidate for Argyll and Bute on 5 May.

The strangest question I was ever asked on a doorstep was on the last Saturday of the 1987 election campaign, which was my first parliamentary outing. In torrential rain I knocked on a door in Stonehouse in Lanarkshire, about the most distant town from the sea in Scotland and nestling within the old Clydesdale constituency which was totally landlocked.

The voter, however, wanted to know the SNP position on lighthouse dues – and specifically to whom they should be paid. Playing for time, I parried with remarks about the weather, the campaign and lots of other things until I dredged from my memory something I had read somewhere about the issue. Amazingly, my response seemed to satisfy him.

This election has produced no such surprises as yet – though, having just looked it up, I am now adequately if not fully prepared to discuss the General Lighthouse Fund and the levying of 38p per net registered ton for up to nine voyages a year with a tonnage cap set at 35,000.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Fortunately most of the questions relate so far to the SNP government’s council tax freeze, to the state of the roads, to education (and particularly student fees) and – in Argyll at least – to the strong disregard in which voters now hold Nick Clegg in particular and the Liberal Democrats in general.

Politicians do evince powerful reactions. Over the years, I have heard astonishing vitriol about friends of mine and fawning appreciation of others with whom I refuse even to spend the time of day. But there seems at present to be a special circle of electoral hell reserved for the man who only 12 months ago former and future prime ministers were clamouring – on live television – to agree with.

In the Highlands, what is openly talked about as the Liberal betrayal is felt especially keenly. A prominent Shetland crofter, explaining the Liberals’ historic hold on whole swathes of the north and west, once said to me that his grandfather had told him that the Liberals were the party that had saved crofting and given the islanders a future, victories they had won by by standing up to the lairds.

Now – to men like him – it seems as if that history has been turned on its head. The crofters’ party is doing the lairds’ dirty work and slashing the services on which rural areas depend. Promises made just a year ago – such as the promise not to raise VAT – are being broken, and claims trumpeted from the rooftops – like an unshakable commitment to reduce rural petrol prices – are turning out to be hollow indeed.

Liberalism in the Highlands and Islands has always been based on the strength of the candidate as well as the cause. Men such as Inverness MP Charles Fraser-Mackintosh – known in the 1880s as “the Member for the Highlands” as a result of his advocacy of land reform and Gaelic – embraced both Land League and Liberal principles, and the open preference expressed this week by John Farquhar Munro for Alex Salmond as first minister reflects that tradition.

JF was the co-sponsor of my Gaelic Bill in the first parliament and he is the best type of old-style Highland Liberal – determined to say what he believes to be true, no matter what his party or his opponents think.

I have experienced both sides of that determination, as his dogged (and successful) resistance to many of the changes proposed by the Shucksmith Commission on crofting made my work as environment minister particularly difficult for a while.

The SNP’s natural embrace of a strong localism – ensuring that decisions are made as close to communities as possible – and our radical approach to land reform, including our determination to repatriate the earnings of the Crown Estate, give a message to Highland communities that is in keeping with their traditions as well as their present need.

A commitment to the language (I was particularly proud to be the first-ever government minister to speak in Gaelic at a European Council of Ministers) and a passion for education (including ensuring the protection of rural schools) strike a chord as well.

Richard Lochhead and Roseanna Cunningham have also demonstrated a practical approach to supporting rural industries and rural employment that is producing results, though there is much still to do.

With four weeks to go in this campaign – it has been a long one – it is more than likely that there will be more surprise questions in store for me and for every other candidate. But I think the real surprise of this election would be if the new-style Liberal Democrat candidates in the Highlands and Islands did not find themselves paying a very heavy electoral price for their party’s decision to sell its political soul for a share of power in London.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Leafcutter bee <em>Picture: tanakawho</em>

Leafcutter bee Picture: tanakawho

By John Knox

It’s good to see at least one politician with a Plan B. The Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has begun her election campaign with a plea to save the bumblebee.

While others are banging on about the economy, jobs, council cuts, schooling, the health service, the state of the roads and our constitutional future, Mrs Grant appears in the Inverness Courier in a colourful photoshoot helping to launch Bee Aware fortnight in the Highlands.

“Be that as it may,” you say, “but isn’t the plight of the bumblebee one of those nice non-political, motherhood-and-apple-pie issues we can all agree on and don’t really have to do anything about?” Actually, no. It is a classic example of an issue that is apparently a small thing – like the bee itself – but is in fact a large thing which goes to the heart of politics and presents us with some worryingly hard choices.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Bees pollinate a third of the food we eat. Without bees, there would be no apples, raspberries, blackberries, cabbages, cucumbers, sprouts, even tea.

It’s estimated that bee pollination is worth $200 billion to the global economy, £200 million a year to the UK economy and £12 million a year to the Scottish economy. But, more worrying, the decline in bee numbers is a sign of trouble deep down in the environment. Bee numbers have halved in the last 20 years. A fifth of bee colonies did not survive last winter.

The reasons are many and complicated. They include bad weather, the loss of flowering meadows, the use of pesticides, the import of non-native species such as the Asian hornet, viruses, fungi, the varroa mite and diseases that affect the larvae such as European and American foulbrood.

There are also the more esoteric explanations, such as that the bees’ memories and flight-paths are confused by air pollution and by electromagnetic fields from powerlines, wi-fi and mobile phone signals. And then there is Colony Collapse Disorder, for which there is, as yet, no explanation.

The United Nations has just brought out a report, Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators, which paints an apocalyptic picture of food shortages and environmental disaster as 20,000 flowering plant species die out and the world’s population of bees go with them. It warns that large scale bee-farming and globalisation are ideal for spreading bee diseases and it calls for more research to find a scientific way out of our global bee predicament.

The UK government says it is playing its part, with £4.2 million being given to bee research over the next five years. The Scottish government has also been wringing its beekeeping gloves and has published The Honey Bee Health Strategy. This, however, does little more than urge Scotland’s 2,500 amateur beekeepers and the 25 commercial beekeeping farms to be on their guard for diseases and adopt “best practice”.

But honey bees are only part of the story. There are 20,000 known species of bee, from those which prefer to live in large hives of up to 40,000 other bees, to those which prefer to live in small independent colonies of up to 400, like the bumblebee. Or those which prefer to live alone, like the carpenter bee, the leafcutter bee, the hornfaced bee or the orchard mason bee.

All of them face problems living in the 21st century. Ten of Britain’s 24 species of bumblebee are in serious decline. We have lost two species completely in recent years. The great yellow bumblebee is now only found in the north and west of Scotland. There are fears that the black bee of Colonsay may disappear soon.

Not if Rhoda Grant can help it. She is urging people across the Highlands and Islands to plant more flowering bushes in their gardens, leave an area of long grass for the bees, stop using pesticides and, in the winter, put out bottle-tops with a one-third sugar/water solution in them for the bees to drink.

But it will take more than domestic gardeners to save the bees. Farmers will need to leave more uncut hedgerows and flower meadows, there will need to be a stop to the use of pesticides and we will need to invest in more research to combat imported viruses and diseases.

Mrs Grant may be fighting the Highlands and Islands regional seat for the Labour Party and issuing press releases on council cuts, more capital funding for NHS Highland, upgrading the A95 and protecting the Stornoway Black Pudding – but she also has a Plan Bee.

Quite how far she is prepared to go, and whether she is prepared to flap her wings on the issue as vigorously as the bees (230 times a second), we have until 5 May to find out.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Sir Robert Peel, 1788–1850

Sir Robert Peel, 1788–1850

By Elizabeth McQuillan

Scottish physicians, as early as the eighteenth century, recognised that poverty was inextricably linked with poor health. Whether in the overcrowded industrial centres, or working the land, the effects of poor diet, overwork and inadequate shelter led to “debility”.

In 1846, the potato blight that had caused the Irish poor to suffer the pain of starvation arrived in Scotland. The areas hardest hit were the Highlands and Islands, where the people relied on a successful crop for sustenance. The result was a Highland famine.

The humble potato provided a high yield on the small plots of land left for cultivation due to the Highland Clearances. With little other food being grown to sustain the local people, the failure of the potato crop proved disastrous.

Find out about donating to The Caledonian Mercury

The crofters looked to their chiefs to provide help at their time of greatest need, but help was often not forthcoming, with the landlords by now looking to replace their tenants with sheep at the earliest opportunity. Many turned a blind eye, some simply evicted their tenants (many were reduced to living on the streets of Inverness), and a few hired boats to transport their tenants off their own land to foreign territories.

The government did eventually intervene and provided rations of oatmeal – 680 grammes for men, 340g for women and 280g for children – but not without the crofters showing that they were still working for their food. Despite having a calorie input that barely sustains basic physiological function, the crofters were expected to work eight hours per day, six days per week.

Unsurprisingly, the people suffered terribly with the many medical problems that famine brings: malnutrition, scurvy, typhus and cholera. This lasted for a full ten years while the crops failed. There was little, if any, medical help available.

The Poor Law in Scotland did not make provision for the care of the walking sick (which most of the victims were) in the local parish. William Pulteney Alison, Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University, along with other Scottish social reformers of the time, demanded in the House of Commons that the Poor Law must be altered to ensure that every parish had the services of a resident medical officer.

Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister, was not keen, but the pressure remained on and Peel eventually (in 1848) conceded a compromise. An annual grant of £10,000 was made to the Board of Supervision of the Poor Law to finance a subsidy for any parish that agreed to finance the formal appointment of a medical officer.

The people of the Highlands and Islands needed particular help. Following the Napoleonic wars, cattle prices had dropped to make their meagre stock worthless, the kelp industry that provided employment collapsed, herring fishing failed and there was a general recession in Scotland. The potato blight simply compounded the problem of abject poverty.

Ultimately, the Poor Law did not help much. The doctors who relocated to the Highlands and Islands as medical officers, hoping to make a living, soon realised that life was tough. Attending patients was difficult due to the large distances and inhospitable landscape, as well as bad weather and the problems of having to often travel by boat. Most patients were so poor that they could not afford to pay. Many doctors returned home.

Sympathy for the plight of the suffering Highlanders was not overwhelming from lowland and English quarters, and the notion of state handouts was not encouraged. Many ideas were put forward to deal with the problem, but the physician Coll MacDonald could see the way forward:

“The simplest and cheapest plan to give medicines and medical aid to tens of thousands living in the Hebrides would be to employ a few sober men of good character and energy, provided with medicines and instruments and a small steamboat (as the Marquis of Salisbury has done for Rum) to move constantly about among the people when they could conveniently assemble to be cured of their diseases. By this plan [salaried medical practitioners] would more economically and efficiently be brought into contact with the sick and the maimed than by the establishment of stationary practitioners.”

This idea was ahead of its time, but in 1913, the same ideas reappeared in the creation of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, the first comprehensive and free state health service in Britain. Though the advent of world war one delayed the roll-out of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, more than 300,000 people across Scotland were covered by the 1930s. It offered a model for the wider national scheme, the National Health Service, which finally came into being on 5 July 1948.

Reference: Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh

Find out about donating to The Caledonian Mercury

Traigh Mheilein, Lewis <em>Picture: Richard Webb</em>

Traigh Mheilein, Lewis Picture: Richard Webb

Tha sgeulachd air aithris mu dheidhinn sgioba de luchd-gnìomhachais a bha a’ feuchainn ri gnothaichean a chuir a dhol ann an Ruisia. Ghearain iad ri na Ruiseanaich gur e a bha ceàrr air an dùthaich aca mar a bhiodh eachdraidh ag atharrachadh cha mhòr bho là gu là.

Chan ann ‘s an aon àite a tha an olc. Nuair a bha mise òg is anns an sgoil, cha bhiodh sinn a’ cluinntinn càil mu na Fuadaichean anns na cleasaichean. Bha beachd a’ dol nach robh anns na tachartasan sin ach rudan a dh’ fheumadh tachairt co-dhiù air sgàth is nach robh feum sam bith anns an fhearainn, is nach robh teachd-a-steach ceart ann is nach robh roghainn ach gun fheumadh na daoine falbh. Bha na croitearan fiadhaich an aghaidh nan uachdaran, ach cò a dh’ eisteadh ri Gaidheil?

Ach nochd sgioba an 7:84 as dèidh sin is iad ag innse gu robh taobh eile ann – agus gun robh càch a-muigh an sin cuideachd den bheachd gun do thachair anacheartas is brùidealachd. Bhon uair sin, tha beachdan eile air nochdadh: cha do thachair na Fuadaichean idir oir bha Diùc Chataibh measail air piseagan, no rudeigin mar sin.

Ma gheibh neach air ar dealbh air eachdraidh a stiùireadh, faodaidh e a bhi cumhachdach. Anns na bliadhnaichean as dèidh 1997, ghabh an riaghaltas cothrom air cho troimhe chèile is a bha na Tòraidhean gus an dreach fhèin a chuir air an eachdraidh. Gun robh 18 bliadhna uamhasach ann, le balaich òga a’ dol suas similieirean is an leithid. Cha robh guth nach robhas ag atharrachadh gin de na poilisidhean aca – ‘s e gu leòr a bh’ ann dìreach bruidhinn mu cho olc is a bha an seann riaghaltas.

Tha rud coltach ri sin a’ dol an-diugh. Uair sam bith a sheasas Làbarach a ghearan mu dheidhinn gearraidhean – thathas a’ cur stad orra le a bhi ag ràdh nach eil an riaghaltas ùr son càil a ghearradh idir, ‘s e dìreach gun do chaith Gordon is an sgioba a h-uile sgillig a bh’ aig an rìoghachd is dh’ fhàg iad fiachan is uireasbhaidhean as an dèidh.

Tha an teachdaireachd ùr air cùlaibh a h-uile càil: “Chaith Gordon an t-airgead gu lèir. Chaith e an t-airgead.” Thathas a’ feuchainn ris an eachdraidh a dhèanamh, an sgeulachd ùr a chruthachadh. Tha an seann riaghaltas a’ feuchainn ri cogadh an aghaidh seo le a bhith ag ràdh gun deach an t-airgead a chaitheamh air seirbheisean ùra cumhachdach agus nach robh càil ann ach pailteas air feadh na rìoghachd anns na 13 bliadhna a chaidh seachad.

Pailteas? Airgead? Seirbheisean poblach a-bharrachd? Càite?

Is dòcha gun robh mi a’ fuireach air a’ ghealaich, ach chan fhaca mise mòran a-bharrachd air gearraidhean is seirbheisean gu math fann is truagh bho 1997. Is dòcha gu bheil mi air mo mhealladh, ach ‘s ann as dèidh dhaibh fhaighinn a-steach a nochd Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd nach robh ionmhas aca ach na chàradh raithidean na sgìre gach 200 bliadhna.

Nach ann as dèidh 1997 a chaidh ionad nam maor-chladach anns an Òban a dhùnadh. Chan ann anns an aon àite a bha na gearraidhean. Son deich bliadhna, chaidh ionmhas riaghaltais dha na meadhanan Gàidhlig sìos, is chan ann suas, nuair a mheasar e a rèir prìsean anns an fharsaingeachd, no ìre na h-atmhoireachd.

Tha raithidean air feadh Alba mar gum biodh cogadh air a bhith ann. Bhiodh an stàit an còmhnaidh ag ràdh nach robh an t-airgead aca iad a chàradh gu lèir. Cha robh ionmhas ann gus cuideachadh le prìsean connaidh a thoirt a nuas air Ghàidhealtachd is anns na h-Eileanan.

Chuir Oifis na h-Alba stad air sianail Gàidhlig ann an 2002 agus iad ag ràdh nach robh an t-airgead ann. Thathas air a bhi a’ gearradh seirbheisean ospadal is fòghlaim air Ghaidhealtachd is anns na h-Eileanan, air sgàth dìth an airgid.

Pailteas ionmhais dha seirbheisean poblach. Feumas gun deach e seachad ormsa.

English summary

Murdo MacLeod questions the narrative of plentiful public spending over the past 13 years. Whatever the headline figures said, recent years have been marked by low spending on vital services such as roads, while education and health in the Highlands and Islands have been cut dramatically.

By Rob Edwards

Ben Gulabin. <em>Picture: Nick Bramhall</em>

Ben Gulabin. Picture: Nick Bramhall

Landowners accused of “mindless vandalism” for bulldozing rough tracks across Scotland’s wild and beautiful landscape are facing calls for a crackdown this week.

MSPs and mountain conservation groups will be demanding tougher controls to prevent scores of hill tracks from scarring slopes and spoiling views across the highlands.

Mountaineers and walkers are angered that landowners can construct “ugly” tracks to enable easier access for stag shooting parties in 4×4 vehicles – without even needing to apply to councils for planning permission.

“It’s outrageous that a privileged few have the power to scar a pristine landscape,” said David Windle, chairman of the North East Mountain Trust, a conservation group.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to make the tracks in the first place. Thirty years ago they walked the last half a mile for a shoot; now it seems they can’t be bothered.”

One of the main culprits named by the trust is Invercauld, which covers 43,600 hectares in the Cairngorms. The estate has been owned since at least 1432 by the Farquharson family, currently headed by Captain Alwyne Farquharson, the 16th laird and chieftain of the Clan Farquharson.

Mountaineers allege that damaging tracks have been bulldozed across Invercauld in Glen Slugain, Glen Feardar and on Ben Gulabin and Carn Mor. Improvements ordered by local authorities to two of the tracks have not been carried out, they claim.

A series of tracks elsewhere in the highlands are blamed for disfiguring the landscape. They include ones on Carn na Saobhaidhe in the Monadhliath, Foinaven in Sutherland, Gulvain near Glenfinnan, and along the Water of Aven in Aberdeenshire.

Tracks are also blamed for disturbing wildlife, causing soil erosion and enabling silt to be washed into rivers where salmon spawn. “There are ever-increasing numbers of tracks appearing in the uplands,” warned Hebe Carus from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

“These are rapidly diminishing the area of Scotland where wildness can be appreciated, and degrade biodiversity, hydrology, soils and people’s experience of the Scottish landscape.”

The council argued that there was no effective control or monitoring of hill tracks, and is campaigning with others to bring them under planning law. A petition has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament, which is due to be debated on Wednesday.

The campaign is being backed by Labour MSPs, including the Highlands and Islands representative, Peter Peacock. “The continuing development of new hill tracks is an increasing intrusion into the wild land of Scotland,” he said.

“The fact that such tracks can appear in many locations without any public scrutiny, or any judgement about the public interest, rather than the private interest, is no longer acceptable. It is time there was significantly more control and scrutiny of such tracks.”

But the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, which represents landowners, argued that stronger regulatory controls over hill tracks would hinder good land management. Voluntary guidance would be better, it suggested.

The association’s chief executive, Douglas McAdam, said claims by mountaineers were “overstated”. Their campaign was founded on “a misunderstanding of the nature and modern day reality of managing an upland property”, he contended.

As well as shooting, hill tracks were used for forestry, fire control, livestock management, nature conservation and public access, he pointed out. “To manage the uplands on foot or by pony is simply not feasible in the modern day,” he said.

According to the factor of Invercauld estate, Simon Blackett, there was “discussion” with the government’s landscape agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, over two tracks, and “no outstanding issue” with the local planning authority. Grouse shooting and deer stalking brought vital jobs and income to remote areas, he pointed out.

The Scottish government confirmed that hill tracks could be constructed by private enterprises for forestry, agricultural and other purposes without planning permission. “We will be considering the merits of this as part of a wider review of permitted development rights later this year,” said a spokesman.

By Rob Edwards

Ben Gulabin. <em>Picture: Nick Bramhall</em>

Ben Gulabin. Picture: Nick Bramhall

Landowners accused of “mindless vandalism” for bulldozing rough tracks across Scotland’s wild and beautiful landscape are facing calls for a crackdown this week.

MSPs and mountain conservation groups will be demanding tougher controls to prevent scores of hill tracks from scarring slopes and spoiling views across the highlands.

Mountaineers and walkers are angered that landowners can construct “ugly” tracks to enable easier access for stag shooting parties in 4×4 vehicles – without even needing to apply to councils for planning permission.

“It’s outrageous that a privileged few have the power to scar a pristine landscape,” said David Windle, chairman of the North East Mountain Trust, a conservation group.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to make the tracks in the first place. Thirty years ago they walked the last half a mile for a shoot; now it seems they can’t be bothered.”

One of the main culprits named by the trust is Invercauld, which covers 43,600 hectares in the Cairngorms. The estate has been owned since at least 1432 by the Farquharson family, currently headed by Captain Alwyne Farquharson, the 16th laird and chieftain of the Clan Farquharson.

Mountaineers allege that damaging tracks have been bulldozed across Invercauld in Glen Slugain, Glen Feardar and on Ben Gulabin and Carn Mor. Improvements ordered by local authorities to two of the tracks have not been carried out, they claim.

A series of tracks elsewhere in the highlands are blamed for disfiguring the landscape. They include ones on Carn na Saobhaidhe in the Monadhliath, Foinaven in Sutherland, Gulvain near Glenfinnan, and along the Water of Aven in Aberdeenshire.

Tracks are also blamed for disturbing wildlife, causing soil erosion and enabling silt to be washed into rivers where salmon spawn. “There are ever-increasing numbers of tracks appearing in the uplands,” warned Hebe Carus from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

“These are rapidly diminishing the area of Scotland where wildness can be appreciated, and degrade biodiversity, hydrology, soils and people’s experience of the Scottish landscape.”

The council argued that there was no effective control or monitoring of hill tracks, and is campaigning with others to bring them under planning law. A petition has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament, which is due to be debated on Wednesday.

The campaign is being backed by Labour MSPs, including the Highlands and Islands representative, Peter Peacock. “The continuing development of new hill tracks is an increasing intrusion into the wild land of Scotland,” he said.

“The fact that such tracks can appear in many locations without any public scrutiny, or any judgement about the public interest, rather than the private interest, is no longer acceptable. It is time there was significantly more control and scrutiny of such tracks.”

But the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, which represents landowners, argued that stronger regulatory controls over hill tracks would hinder good land management. Voluntary guidance would be better, it suggested.

The association’s chief executive, Douglas McAdam, said claims by mountaineers were “overstated”. Their campaign was founded on “a misunderstanding of the nature and modern day reality of managing an upland property”, he contended.

As well as shooting, hill tracks were used for forestry, fire control, livestock management, nature conservation and public access, he pointed out. “To manage the uplands on foot or by pony is simply not feasible in the modern day,” he said.

According to the factor of Invercauld estate, Simon Blackett, there was “discussion” with the government’s landscape agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, over two tracks, and “no outstanding issue” with the local planning authority. Grouse shooting and deer stalking brought vital jobs and income to remote areas, he pointed out.

The Scottish government confirmed that hill tracks could be constructed by private enterprises for forestry, agricultural and other purposes without planning permission. “We will be considering the merits of this as part of a wider review of permitted development rights later this year,” said a spokesman.