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Landscape policy: wild land

Scotland’s wild and remote areas have a distinct and special character, which is increasingly rare to find, and require protection.

Large areas of Scotland – chiefly in the north and west – have largely semi-natural landscapes that show minimal signs of human influence. These may be mountains and moorland, undeveloped coastline or peat bog.

Our wild land:

  • is a big part of Scotland’s identity
  • brings significant economic benefits – attracting visitors and tourists
  • offers people psychological and spiritual benefit
  • provides increasingly important havens for Scotland’s wildlife

Surveys have shown widespread support for safeguarding these landscapes. See, for example, the 2012 Public Perception Survey of Wildness in Scotland.

‘Wild land area’ describes the most extensive areas of high wildness. It is not a statutory designation, but wild land areas are considered nationally important.

Scottish Government policy

Published in 2014, National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3) sets out the Scottish Government’s development priorities.

NPF3:

  • recognises wild land as a nationally important asset
  • indicates that Scotland’s wildest landscapes merit strong protection

Scottish Planning Policy sets out how this should be achieved. This includes identifying wild land and how to safeguard it both in development plans and in spatial frameworks for onshore wind farms.

In addition, Scottish Planning Policy requires that any development proposal on wild land must “demonstrate that any significant effects on the qualities of these areas can be substantially overcome by siting, design or other mitigation”.

Scottish Natural Heritage policy

Read Wildness in Scotland’s Countryside: Policy Statement

Our policy statement:

  • describes the main pressures leading to loss of wildness
  • considers how to identify and care for wild land in Scotland

Annex 1 maps ‘search areas for wild land’ to show where the main areas of wild land in Scotland are likely to be found. ‘Wild land areas’ have since replaced these search areas.

We identified 42 wild land areas following a detailed analysis in 2014 of where wildness can be found across all of Scotland’s landscapes.

View the Wild Land Areas map and descriptions

You can also download geographic information system (GIS) data for wild land areas from our Natural Spaces website

Mapping Scotland’s wild land areas

We identified Scotland’s wild land areas following a 2013 consultation on ‘core areas of wild land’, which initially replaced the search areas. This informed our advice to government and the preparation of the 2014 map of wild land areas.

Read SNH Core Areas of Wild Land 2013 Map: Consultation Paper

Read Core Areas of Wild Land 2013 Map: Scottish Natural Heritage’s Advice to Government – 16th June 2014

Measuring wildness is inherently difficult, as it’s a subjective quality experienced differently by different people.

We believe wildness depends on the presence of four physical attributes, each of which can be measured and mapped:

  • perceived naturalness of the land cover
  • ruggedness of terrain
  • remoteness from public roads, ferries or railway stations
  • visible lack of buildings, roads, pylons and other modern artefacts

Find out more about our approach in the description below.

Download SNH’s Mapping of Scotland’s Wildness and Wild Land: Non-technical Description of the Methodology

Wild Land Areas

Wild Land Areas are the most extensive areas of high wildness. They are identified as nationally important in Scottish Planning Policy, but are not a statutory designation.

Find out more

Assessing impacts on Wild Land Areas technical guidance

Contact

Email: wildland@nature.scot