Hilltracks campaign

Andy Wightman MSP amendments to the Planning Bill

In June 2019 we asked our supporters to write to their MSPs to support stronger control of vehicle tracks in Scotland's uplands. Working with Scottish Environment LINK and others, SWLG has been involved in this long campaign for many years and there was a real opportunity to change the law.

In the Stage 3 debate on the amendments to the Planning Bill on 20th June the Tory and SNP MSPs teamed up en masse to vote against Andy Wightman's series of amendments. These quite moderate and reasonable proposals would have afforded a degree of protection to our wildest landscapes and also introduced a much needed right for the general public to have a voice in these developments. The MSPs were lobbied hard by Scottish Land and Estates and Scottish Renewables. Due to this, we have lost a key opportunity to change the law. However, we are definitely not giving up on this and will persist in our work.

hilltrack scotland

Changing Tracks: the case for better control of vehicle tracks in Scotland's finest landscapes

Report for Scottish Environment LINK published September 2018.

The major new Changing Tracks report from Scottish Environment LIK has found the current planning system for agricultural tracks to be confusing, undemocratic and failing to protect our world-famous uplands.

This campaign has been a major work output for SWLG over the last 5 years and we need your support! We're urgently calling on all lovers of Scotland's outdoors to ask their MSPs to support that important amendment, and save our hills and wild areas from further lasting damage.

Read the press release and full report or see coverage of the campaign on the BBC website.

hilltrack scotland

Mountains not the place for vehicles: LINK Hill Tracks Campaign moves up a gear

Article from Mel Nicoll, LINK Hill Tracks Campaign consultant

As someone who has spent the past twenty five years walking and climbing in the Scottish hills I've come across a fair few bulldozed tracks that have raised at least an eyebrow, and sometimes downright ire. Now, I'm delighted that I've been taken on to work with the Scottish Environment LINK Hill Tracks Campaign to help boost the campaign to change the legislation and bring all hilltrack construction into the full planning system. This is needed to bring a greater measure of environmental and landscape protection and counter the democratic deficit in the current system as there is no requirement at present to invite comments from the public or organisations. The wealth of photographic evidence gathered by the campaign, its member groups and the wider public over past years should leave no-one in any doubt that poorly-sited and constructed tracks can have significant and sometimes disastrous impacts on the environment and landscape. But there's still work to do.

The introduction in December 2014 of a system of "prior notification" where landowners building tracks under permitted development rights now have to give notice of their intentions was of course a step in the right direction but it's vital that we keep hilltracks as an issue in the public consciousness, and widen public engagement. It's fantastic that the campaign has established a network of hard-working volunteers from all corners of Scotland (and beyond!), taking time each week to sift through what can be long lists of documents on local authority planning web pages and alerting us to their findings. With the public's continued involvement in monitoring local authority planning web pages, reporting tracks of concern and sending in their images we can continue to build the evidence we need to ensure that politicians understand the issues and the depth of support for change.

hilltrack scotland

My role over the coming year is to help the hard-working Steering Group members by collating and recording the reports coming in from the volunteer "trackers" as well as the wider public. Helping to free up some of the Steering Group's time by taking over some of the administration will allow them to focus on more in-depth scrutiny of tracks of concern and making comments on the various proposals and other investigations - there are times of course when sadly tracks do not seem to have gone through the prior notification system at all!

During the year I'm also going to be starting to prepare what will be a major report for publication in 2018 where we will set out how we think the prior notification system has been working and related issues. Several themes, as well as potential case studies, are already beginning to emerge. During 2016 we became increasingly concerned, for example, about the quality of track work associated with hydro schemes and the lack of adequate restoration work after the commissioning phase of some projects. The report, like the impressive "Track Changes" report before it, will be a central element of our advocacy work to support the campaign's goal to get a further change in the law. The campaign will also be working to demonstrate that the hilltracks issue is part of the wider context of responsible land management and use. In that respect the Scottish Government's current focus on the land reform agenda - incorporating a stronger representation of the public interest through responsible stewardship of the land and sustainable land use - gives the campaign enhanced opportunities to move beyond being seen as a niche issue only of concern to people who spend time on recreational activities in the uplands.

It goes without saying that we continue to welcome photos of tracks of concern, along with supporting information and, although we now have fairly good coverage of the key Scottish local authority areas in terms of monitoring planning lists, we are always interested in hearing from people who could be on standby to take over an area or give us back up at certain times. You can find more information about how to submit photos and about being a volunteer "tracker" on the Hill Tracks Campaign web page of the Scottish Environment LINK website. Thanks for your ongoing support.

hilltrack scotland hilltrack scotland

Mel Nicoll
LINK Hill Tracks Campaign consultant


The LINK Hill Tracks Campaign is supported by the British Mountaineering Council Access and Conservation Trust, Scottish Mountaineering Trust, Scottish Environment LINK Discretionary Project Fund and the Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks Campaign Group member organisations:- Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Cairngorms Campaign, Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group, National Trust for Scotland, North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Scottish Wild Land Group. The support of Mountaineering Scotland and John Muir Trust is also gratefully recognised.

Early Campaign Benchmarks

Track Changes Report, 2013:

The Scottish Wild Land Group joined nine of Scotland's leading environmental organisations to publish Track Changes, a report on the construction of hill tracks outside the planning system. The report presents evidence of the damage caused by unregulated track construction, and calls on the Government to bring all tracks into the planning system to ensure that minimum standards are met and allow public oversight.

Response To The General Permitted Development Amendment Order, 2012:

The SWLG responded to the Scottish Government's proposed amendments to the General Permitted Development Amendment Order that would remove automatic Permitted Development Rights from hill tracks. You can view the response here

Wild Land News Article, 2010:

The SWLG's position on hilltracks was published in the Spring 2010 issue of Wild Land News which shows the background to the SWLG's position on hilltracks.

Can you help?

Background to the issue:

Poorly constructed hilltracks which cause landscape and environmental damage have been a concern to environmental groups for decades, especially as no planning permission is required if they are for agricultural or forestry purposes. Following a campaign by the LINK hilltracks group, since December 2014 all landowners must give prior notification to local authorities of their intention to construct new hill tracks or carry out improvements of existing tracks. They still don't need to apply for full planning permission so tracks can't be refused permission, but it's hoped that the need for prior notification will improve construction standards. The LINK Hilltracks group has been monitoring local authority planning websites looking for new proposals and expressing concerns or giving comments on specific tracks. In addition we have participated as stakeholders in a government review of the prior notification process and are awaiting the report of that review.

We now need help in assessing whether this prior notification process has been effective in improving the standard of tracks and their impact on the environment and landscape. We also need to know if there are still new tracks appearing which have not gone through any planning process at all.

What do we need?

Can you offer to spend a regular 15 minutes a week [any day] on checking a local authority website for planning applications? We would need you to send us a very brief note of your findings, including nil returns. You would find nil returns most of the time. If you find anything we just need around four basic facts that you would get from the local authority item on its website. Problems when you will be away? No problem - just let us know and cover will be arranged while you are away. So you see, there is no excuse for not volunteering to help! For details please e-mail Beryl at beryl@chway.plus.com and Mel at hilltracks@scotlink.org.

What to look for:

  • visual scarring and impact, look at the photos on this page!
  • signs of erosion, poor drainage, blocked culverts, inadequate culverts, peat damage
  • poor standards of construction - is the track badly rutted? Is there a stable surface? Is the track standing proud of the surrounding ground? Have the sides of the track been built so that there will be no collapse or spreading? Have open borrow pits been left to collapse? Has damaged vegetation been replaced or restored? Has construction litter been removed?

Tracks associated with windfarms and small scale hydro developments have full planning permission, and although their construction often leaves a lot to be desired, these do not come into the current exercise.

Where to send your information:

Email photos with your name and contact details to hilltracks@scotlink.org. In addition you are welcome to Tweet a photo using the hashtag #hilltracks and we will look out for it.

Thanks in advance for any information you can gather. All these efforts, however small, will hopefully contribute to reducing damage to Scotland's landscapes and environment.

LINK Hilltracks campaign group members are: Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Cairngorms Campaign, National Trust for Scotland, North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Campaign for National Parks, and ourselves the Scottish Wild Land Group.

We have also been supported by the John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Council of Scotland.