Scotland’s iconic moorlands are being decimated by “unthinking” government policies that ignore the “defining role” they have played in the nation’s history and psyche, gamekeepers have warned.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) published a report attacking the failure of SNP ministers and their predecessors to ever draw up a strategy to protect the country’s “signature treasure”.
They estimated that 20 per cent of heather moorland disappeared between 1940 and 1970 and a further 500,000 hectares is under threat from the Scottish Government’s forestry strategy of having trees planted on a quarter of land by 2050.
But they argued this afforestation strategy fails to take into account the “significant economic benefit” that moorland provides Scotland through industries such as farming, tourism and renewable energy.
Neither does it pay any heed to the preservation of species such as the curlew, they argued, which last week was put on the “red list” of birds conservationists consider are at greatest risk.
With 75 per cent of the world’s heather found in the UK, and most of that in Scotland, the SGA also highlighted how the country’s unique landscapes had inspired artists, writers and filmmakers.
The 34-page report, written by ecologist Dr James Fenton, maps the extend of the moorland left in Scotland and divides them into four categories – core areas, subsidiary areas, fragmented areas and scattered remnants.
Core moorland was found to cover 2.7 million hectares, 39 per cent of mainland Scotland, with a further 160,000 hectares classified as subsidiary.
Launching the report in Edinburgh, Alex Hogg, the SGA’s chairman, said MSPs “didn’t have a clue” about the importance of moorland and he hoped the document prompted a political debate about its value.
He said: “This report is not a ‘no trees’ policy, but a ‘where trees’ policy. It acknowledges competing demands on land use and makes sensible suggestions as to where moorland must be retained and where we can afford to lose bits without breaking the whole thing.
“We need to value these special landscapes again instead of paying lip service, and place them at the heart of our land use strategy.”
Mr Hogg warned that if Scottish policymakers “continue to stumble blindly and allow our moorlands to disappear” then species such as the curlew will disappear.
The report said curlew numbers are down 59 per cent over the past 20 years, while the peewit population has fallen 59 per cent and golden plovers are down 29 per cent.
Dr Fenton said Scotland’s moors and hills are “our speciality which discriminates us from our European neighbours” and it was surprising that its loss “in an ad hoc manner” was being accepted.
The ecologist, who previously worked for quango Scottish National Heritage and the National Trust for Scotland, was also highly critical of claims Scotland’s landscape should be fashioned in the image of Norway.
“If you look closely at Norway, the vegetation isn’t the same. There’s a different land use system, a different social system, different climates,” he said.
“Instead of saying let’s make Scotland like Norway, we should be saying ‘why is Scotland the way it is and let’s keep the best parts.”
The Scottish Government said the SGA report was a “welcome contribution” to a consultation it has launched on a new land use strategy in which ministers will consider the “need for a strategic vision for Scotland’s uplands.”