by David McVey
Like confusion between Scotland central defenders and the BBC's refusal to make another Dr Who, bulldozed roads in the hills are a long-established nuisance. Wilderness quality is spoiled forever simply because a landowner isn't prepared to walk as his fathers did when determined to nuke some birds or deer. Until recently no planning permission at all was needed for these monstrosities, and is now only required for high-level routes. Even so, the rate of new desecrations is not abating. I recently noticed a hideous new scar on the slopes of Beinn Chaorach near Tyndrum, and quite horribly, an extension of the older track up Gleann Casaig which now goes right up to the Benvane-Ben Ledi ridge at Stuc Dubh - well over 2000ft. They did get planning permission, didn't they, Central Region? Why?
In my article on the Campsies (TAC11), I pointed out the new danger of tracks beaten by all-terrain vehicles; discreet where they go over firm grass or heather, peatier ground gets churned up as if sumo mudwrestling had taken place there. No planning permission is needed for these tracks, however high they go.
Or at least so it seemed - I can report some hopeful news. It all began in the Monadhliath; I like these rolling, curlew-crying hills, their sense of space, loneliness and lack of crowds. I set off to climb Carn an Fhreiceadain (Freaky Dane for short) above Kingussie, planning to reach it by the old estate road from Pitmain Lodge, returning by another old track on the lower slopes of neighbouring Beinn Bhreac.
After it crosses the Allt Mor the track becomes a newer bulldozed road which I was glad to escape and move onto the open hillside. Approaching the summit I noticed a broad, scarred line of ruts and ridges running from further along the bulldozed track. It was the trail of countless all-terrain vehicles, which had churned the sensitive summit area upside-down wherever they touched. I continued along the ridge to Beinn Bhreac, and the tracks came too. On the south face of Bhreac they had ripped off all the vegetation, leaving a gravelly scar wider than the A9, all the way down to the old estate road.
So many landed proprietors are quick to jump on any instance of vandalism or damage caused by hillwalkers, so I was furious that an estate should have so desecrated the land they claim to protect. I wrote to the planning department in Kingussie, and they replied stating that no planning application had been submitted, but as the track was formed by use and not actually engineered, there seemed little they could do. They were, however, seeking legal advice.
I also wrote to Scottish National Heritage, explaining the damage caused, and the apparent loophole which allowed it to happen unchecked. They replied stating that they shared my concern, but '...the area you mention is not a designated area and therefore the estate owner is within his rights...'. With typical toothless public body complacency, I was advised to contact the estate myself! What are SNH staff paid for?
Then came the good news; the planning department wrote to me again; their solicitor felt that, because vegetation- covered hillside had been denuded, there may be a case for planning permission being required. The estate had been asked to apply for it. That was at the end of May, and I'm still waiting to hear more. It's all come a bit late for Freaky Dane and Beinn Bhreac (I'm sure the damage is irreparable), but at least there is a ray of hope for the future.
The lessons to be learned? Keep your eyes open whenever you are in the hills, local ones or further afield. If you see any new tracks, or work in progress, don't turn a blind eye. Contact the relevant Planning Department, and remember, the track need not have been actually engineered. If rich landowners will not protect the land they have grabbed, we had better become its guardians ourselves.
TAC 15 Index