Escaping the crowds

Prompted by his daughter’s plea for a ‘wild walk’ to escape Edinburgh’s festival crowds, Policy and Advice Manager Simon Brooks headed to Flowerdale in Wester Ross. One of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas where the quality and extent of wildness is considered to be of national importance, Simon is reminded of two newly published SNH reports relevant to these wild places.

Baos bheinn in the Shieldaig forest from the Gairloch road. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Baos bheinn in the Shieldaig forest from the Gairloch road. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We arrived to find a dozen cars parked at Red Barn, a popular spot from which to access the extensive area of wild land between Loch Maree and Torridon. From here we followed the rough track south to the base of Beinn an Eòin (meaning peak of the bird), before picking our way across bog and rock to ascend its ridge. Although a Corbett (a mountain of 2500’ to 3000’ in height, which are seeing increasing popularity), there was not much evidence of a path to the top.

The walk provided the experience that my daughter was looking for. From the summit we enjoyed a stunning 360° ‘wild’ mountain panorama, with little apparent evidence of human intervention. But is this really the case?

Looking north west from Beinn an Eòin to Loch Gairloch.

Looking north west from Beinn an Eòin to Loch Gairloch.

We looked back on our route. We had followed a track created for forestry and stalking activities. It weaved through a native pine wood planted in the 1990s as part of the Millennium Forest project’s efforts to increase woodland. Below us could be seen

Poca Buidhe bothy, used by the estate and Duke of Edinburgh Award groups keen to overnight amongst the mountains, and a boat house on Loch na h-Oidhche. To the north the new dam and draw-down scar of the upgraded 2MW Loch Garbhaig hydro scheme were visible.

Our journey demonstrated that much of Scotland’s wild land is by no means an untouched wilderness, but reflects its long history of past occupation and present use. It also illustrated the diverse use made of Wild Land Areas – alongside the ‘wild’ experience my daughter had sought out. These uses, and the benefits they provide, are captured in a new report[1] just published by SNH.

The path heads south from Red Barn, into Flowerdale Forest.

The path heads south from Red Barn, into Flowerdale Forest.

The report aids our understanding of the benefit of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas. It bears out their economic value, particularly in relation to tourism and outdoor recreation where Scotland can offer a wild land resource distinct from other countries. It is therefore no surprise that wildness is the main draw for many visitors – not just those taking part in sporting activities and outdoor recreation (Wild Land Areas contain the majority of Munros and Corbetts), but also those participating in less active pastimes such as simply enjoying views from the roadside.

Wild land also provides a range of other ‘ecosystem services’, some of which underpin our daily lives. For instance they regulate water flows to reduce flooding, and provide power such as the Loch Garbhaig scheme, alongside capturing carbon in the bogs to help us mitigate climate change.

The report also recognises that Wild Land Areas can influence development decisions. This highlights the need for careful siting and design of development in these areas and the challenge that decision makers face in balancing social, economic and environmental interests.

To assist this balancing, SNH is preparing guidance for assessing impacts on wild land. The guidance will be finalised later this year, helping decision makers to consider how well planned development can be accommodated sensitively and ensure these nationally important areas continue to provide their many diverse benefits well into the future. An overview of the nearly 150 responses received[2] on the draft guidance has just been published.

Not that I was thinking about these technical reports as we picked our way down Beinn an Eòin – enjoying the wildness of Wester Ross and outstanding views was more than enough.

[1] You can download A review of the social, economic and environmental benefits and constraints linked to wild land in Scotland from SNH’s website.

[2] You can download SNH draft ‘Assessing impacts on Wild Land Areas – technical guidance’: overview of consultation responses from SNH’s website.



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