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Defining and mapping Scotland's wild land to protect it for future generations

  • This project, enabled by the One Scotland Mapping Agreement, has produced the first national map of wildness in Scotland and will result in the identification of key wild land areas.

    Simon Brooks, Landscape Manager

A collaborative project between members of the One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA) has enabled Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to publish the first national map of wild land in Scotland. SNH is funded by the Scottish Government to look after Scotland’s huge diversity of landscapes, habitats and wildlife so that these natural assets can be safeguarded for future generations.

The challenge

A SNH survey of Scottish residents reported that 91% agreed that wild land is an important aspect of Scotland’s countryside and that more is needed to be done to protect it. Defining and measuring ‘wildness’ is inherently difficult, as an individual’s perception will depend on their personal experience and reflect their particular expectations of a place. Yet without an agreed definition, identifying and then mapping areas of wild land to ensure its protection would not be possible.

The solution

As part of SNH’s policy on wildness in Scotland’s countryside, a preliminary map identifying the most significant and valued areas of wild land was prepared in 2002 for debate and further refinement. This map; however, was prepared at a small scale and did not include small areas of wild land or attempt to precisely define the boundary of an area. To build upon this work, SNH, working with the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority, teamed up with the Wildland Research Institute to define and map wild land at an altogether new scale.

As members of the One Scotland Mapping Agreement, SNH and the two national park authorities are able to seamlessly share Ordnance Survey map data, enabling partnership working and reducing effort and costs. The data available to members of the agreement includes OS MasterMap® Integrated Transport Network™(ITN) Layer (which maps Great Britain’s road network) and OS MasterMap Topography Layer (which contains more than 400 million individual features that describe and provide a detailed view of the landscape). Together with each organisation’s own information, these layers formed key components of the wild land analysis.

Whilst definitions of wildness may differ, a number of common themes have been identified – a sense of remoteness, a perception of naturalness, rugged or challenging terrain and a lack of obvious modern influences on the landscape. Using existing information contained in a geographical information system (GIS), these themes were developed into four qualities of wildness and each was mapped individually before being combined to give an overall map of wildness.

This provided a robust method that can be repeated to identify and map changes in Scotland’s wild land over time and is an important step forward in its protection as it provides a solid basis for discussion when proposals come forward for development. Both national park authorities are now drafting guidance on wild land planning based on this approach whilst Scottish Natural Heritage has now completed work on the national wildness map for Scotland.

The benefits

  • The analysis of wildness in Scotland has delivered a robust methodology that can be repeated in the future to map changes in the nation’s wild land resource.
  • The approach used provides an up-to-date picture of Scotland’s wild land resource based on the very best data gathered from a variety of sources.
  • As well as raising awareness of the social and environmental benefits of Scotland’s wild areas and the need to protect them, this work helps to promote a valuable visitor attraction and supports employment, bringing significant economic benefits to Scotland.
  • Mapping wildness and wild land supports government policy to safeguard the character of these valued landscapes.

The products used

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