Wild land – where are the supporters?

viewpointALLOW me to spout some numbers if you will. Between March 2013 and February 2014, according to Scottish Natural Heritage, 82% of adults in Scotland visited the outdoors for leisure or recreation, taking an estimated 396 million outdoor visits.

That’s a massive figure but many of those people may have been taking their dog for a wee walk or enjoying a countryside picnic so let’s tighten up the numbers a bit.

About 7% of those people visited hills and mountains, so that works out at about 27.7 million visits.

It’s notoriously difficult to get up to date and accurate information about how many people are actually climbing our hills and mountains but away back in 1999 it was reckoned over 123,000 people walked in the Cairngorms alone. Round about the same time some 60,000 to 85,000 people climbed Ben Nevis and 60,000 people walked in the east Grampians and on Lochnagar. (Figures from Managing Scotland’s Environment, published in 2002)

I think it’s probably safe to say that the numbers visiting Scotland’s mountains today could be calculated in millions, people who climb the hills for many different reasons certainly but folk who, you would think, would want to see the integrity of Scottish wild land protected in the best possible way.

And yet, when the Mountaineering Council of Scotland recently launched a public petition asking the Scottish Government to ensure that our remaining areas of wild land are fully protected from large scale development it attracted a pathetic 4000 signatures, (to date) hardly enough to make a Scottish minister glance twice at it.

mistCompare that with the million plus signatures that urged the BBC not to sack broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson after his fisticuffs episode with a producer. I’m not a fan of Top Gear and I really don’t care one way or another if Clarkson continues as a presenter but I am concerned about the wild lands of Scotland and I’m beginning to understand why we are losing the battle over the protection of our wild land.

The culprit is apathy, sheer unadulterated apathy.

And to make the situation even more depressing a recent YouGov poll suggests that 70% of people polled supported large scale onshore windfarm development in Scotland.

That puts people like me, the MCofS, the Ramblers and the John Muir Trust into the category of a “vocal minority” as recently described by Rob Gibson MSP who wrote; “clamour for ‘wild land’ protection is a response to a predominantly urban view of wildness focussed on by a well-publicised anti-development lobby. This has led to a vocal minority railing loudly against wind turbine building.”

I know and respect Rob Gibson so I don’t intend getting involved in a slanging match because people like him are not the reason we are rapidly losing wild land. The problems lie within our own hill-going community, the folk you would think would be passionate advocates for hills and mountains but instead whinge, moan and complain at people like me because we’re not doing enough to stop the goose-stepping march of turbines and pylons across our hills.

When I get into that type of conversation I always ask the person what conservation organisation he or she belongs to. In over 90% of the cases they don’t belong to any. And there lies the nub of the problem…

Membership figures for most conservation NGO’s are rubbish.

Ramblers Scotland can boast five or six thousand members; the JMT has about 10,000 members and the MCof S has even less individual members. Compare that with the RSPB’s million plus membership and you can begin to understand why the birdwatchers have considerable more political clout than we hillgoers.

I’m not criticising the officers of these organisations. They all work bloody hard representing the members they have. If you are not a member of one of these groups; if you have not, at least, signed the MCofS petition, then I’m being critical of you!


A number of years ago I wrote “to remain silent is no longer an option” and I stand by that today.

If we want to see any improvement in the protection of our wild land areas then we all have to raise our voices; we must all rally together as one; we must all support the conservation NGOs.

If we don’t do that the politicians will simply tell us that almost three-quarters of the people in Scotland support on-shore wind turbines so please go back into your box and shut up!

When I was editor of The Great Outdoors magazine I tried to make it a campaigning magazine; I tried to fight for the interests of walkers, mountain goers and backpackers, but month after month I received letters from individuals threatening to cancel their subscription because the magazine was “too political.”

TGO was inherently left-wing, I admit that, because the Tories have never been very keen on issues like access, freedom to roam or conservation in general, and I have no doubt we lost many readers over the years because of our political stance.

Today, no outdoor magazine takes such a stance. They are all obsessed with celebrity status, the best pubs in the Lake District and an endless liturgy of gear, gear, gear. It’s no small wonder that outdoor types are not informed about the politics of their sport, not inspired to raise their own voice in protest.

And I have no doubt in my mind that there will those reading this who will say that after a week’s work the last thing they want to do is get involved in lobbying politicians about windfarms, or bulldozed paths, or access issues. They just want to go to the hills and “have a good time.”


Well that’s fine. But please don’t then complain that your favourite Munro is going to have a windfarm built on it, or that your favourite view is going to be spoiled by a line of pylons, or that the lovely natural footpath you once used is now a bulldozed track to carry shooting ‘sportsmen’ onto the hill.

We are losing the battle for our wild places.

We badly need more hillwalkers who are willing to stand up and be counted.

We urgently need tens of thousands of voices raised in protest at developments on wild land.

We badly need individuals of the calibre of John Muir to raise public awareness of the importance of wild land and why we should protect it.

Are you willing to do something? How about joining one of the organisations I’ve already mentioned and volunteering your services.

To quote the wilderness prophet himself– “do something for wildness, and make the mountains glad.”

Or perhaps you just can’t be bothered…

The MCofS Wild Land petition can be found at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/wild-land

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