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Guest Blog: Is ‘Cleared’ Land Really ‘Wild’ Land? A perspective from Rob Gibson, MSP Caithness, Sutherland & Ross

Wild or Cleared?  Does it make a difference today?

Wild or Cleared? Does it make a difference today?

Scotland is alive right now with proposals to do all sorts of things differently than they have been done in the past.  The tension between ‘develop’ and ‘protect’ is growing and the right answers are not always as clear as everyone would like.  One currently hot topic involves how best to relate to Scotland’s vast undeveloped land base.

Clenched fists and cries of “keep it wild” ring out from the hills.  Re-wild Scotland!  Bring Back The Wolf, the Lynx and the Unicorn!  But should land that was forcibly cleared of human settlement in the 19th century be off limits to development today?

Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross has called into question whether many of these core ‘wild lands’ are more accurately badged as Clearances Country.  Here is Member of the Scottish Parliament and author Rob Gibson on the debate over today’s Wild Scotland:

Map shows areas of ‘wild land' in brown and clearance communities are numbered.

Map shows areas of ‘wild land’ in brown and clearance communities are numbered.

History shows that much more of Scotland was regularly settled than settlement patterns today suggest. The removal of people from fertile inland glens and straths to the coasts in the Clearances for sheep and deer shooting have skewed our modern views of much of this ‘manmade wilderness’ as Frank Fraser Darling described much of the Highlands in his ground breaking work seventy years ago.

Alas in my view, 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.

That’s why I have taken the first step to show why the desk-top designation of core wild land areas first drawn up in 2013 is deeply subjective. I have matched a map of clearances sites which were identified over several editions of my book The Highland Clearances Trail* (last published in 2007). It’s a guide to places associated with some of the most prominent events in that dark era of enforced population movement.

When you match my indicative map of clearances sites with so-called wild land core areas there is a striking overlap. I have produced a combined map of the two. It is not fully scientific but it points to the need for a map of settlements across rural Scotland that used to exist to see the places where human communities lived and thrived.

I support calls from Community Land Scotland for such a settlement map to be drawn up to aid community land rights to regain much of the land that people have lost. We should recall that the Highland Land League MPs voted against the 1886 Crofting Bill because the lost lands of the crofters were not returned to them.

Today access to land is even more a key to rebuild fragile populations in harmony with the natural environment. Fencing off so-called wild land in the minds of people and planners is a disservice to the needs of a biodiverse Scotland and the human need for sustainable modern life in a climate change aware nation. This map suggests that the place of people in our landscape must not be erased.

Thanks Rob!  Anyone else out there have a view of this?  Please let us know your thoughts.  Hey – it isn’t like we don’t face some of these very same thorny problems here in the United States.  We do!

One response to “Guest Blog: Is ‘Cleared’ Land Really ‘Wild’ Land? A perspective from Rob Gibson, MSP Caithness, Sutherland & Ross”

  1. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I agree with Rob, there should be limited sustainable development on those lands previously occupied. They are not strictly wilderness and should not be treated as such.

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