A WARNING has been given that a successful appeal against the refusal of a phone mast in a designated Wild Land Area could open the floodgates to dozens more in some of Scotland’s most beautiful places.

Perth and Kinross Council has ­refused permission for the mast on a remote piece of land north west of Loch Rannoch but an appeal has been lodged on behalf of Vodafone.

Campaigners are warning that if it is upheld, it will pave the way to scores more in scenic areas where they are not needed.

Funded by Westminster to the tune of £500 million, the project is aimed at tackling so-called “Total Not Spots” where there is no telecommunications coverage.

Protesters argue the money should be spent on improving ­reception where people live, rather than ­erecting unsightly structures on ­uninhabited beauty spots.

The impact of the controversial rollout of digital masts on Scotland’s wild land was laid out in the Sunday National after retired engineer Dave Craig managed to map them ­following a series of Freedom of Information ­requests to the authorities.

The cost of each mast is an ­estimated £1m. Announcing the ­project in 2019, the then prime ­minister Boris Johnson said it would be completed by 2025.

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Perth and Kinross rejected the bid for a 20-metre mast, north west of Loch Rannoch, on the grounds that the structure could ruin the “sense of awe and sanctuary”. It said it would create an “incongruous, ­eye-catching, man-made feature which would be visible for around five kilometres within an upland valley”.

Cornerstone, which submitted the plans on behalf of Vodafone, has now appealed, claiming the council has “overestimated the impacts” and any physical impact was “­outweighed by the benefits provided by the ­­connectivity provided”.

However, Craig said that while some of the 260 planned masts could be useful, many were “absolutely no use” and this was one of them.

He pointed out that sites like the Rannoch one have less protection than National Parks or National ­Scenic Areas even though they are in designated Wild Land Areas (WLAs).

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These sites do not need full planning permission and are put before a local authority under a system called prior notification. A local authority can refuse them, as Perth and Kinross has done, but the grounds for refusal are more constrained.

Some developments are allowed within WLAs if they are considered necessary and phone masts fall under this category of a permitted development.

Craig said this made it more difficult for an ­appeal to be refused but he is hopeful that public opposition will be taken into account.

Otherwise, he warned, it could pave the way to around 100 more masts and their accompanying ­infrastructure in WLAs.

Craig is now appealing to the ­public to contact their MPs before the ­election to call for a pause and a review of the roll-out.

He pointed out that the estimated cost of £1m per mast could be better spent on first-class telecommunications in rural areas where people live.

“We need a really good robust ­network with high data rates giving a signal to every house indoors – that would be a dream thing to spend money on. But that is not what the shared network is doing,” Craig said.

Concern over proposed masts on the fringes of WLAs as well as those within them has been expressed by North East Mountain Trust.

The Trust’s George Allan said they were still in “fine, remote ­landscapes”.

“We don’t think that ­infrastructure of that nature should be there ­unless it clearly serves a community or ­directly serves business premises,” he said.

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The organisation has objected to 46 proposed sites, six of which have so far been approved including one on the edge of Glen Clova, only a mile away from another mast site approved 18 months, ago also by Angus Council.

Allan said the decision was “bizarre” as there should have been mast sharing by the companies.

“One of the issues is that there is a huge amount of technicality related to all of this and I don’t think any planning authority really has the expertise to fully assess this aspect,” he said.

Highland Council has, in fact, called for a pause in the rollout ­after being swamped by applications. Councillors passed a motion supporting Mountaineering Scotland, the John Muir Trust and a coalition of other outdoor recreation, conservation and community groups trying to raise awareness of the shortcomings of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) project.

They argue that SRN’s insistence of 95% geographical coverage means masts are being erected in remote ­unpopulated areas, rather than in places where they are really needed.

Mike Daniels, John Muir Trust’s head of policy, said that while they were “wholly supportive” of ­improving rural connectivity, the ­approach of the UK Government was “seriously flawed”.

“Instead of consulting with ­communities in sparsely populated areas, ministers are imposing top-down targets whose prime objective seems to be filling in dots on maps rather than providing 4G cover for households and businesses who need to be connected,” he said.

“As a wild places charity, we are concerned that unnecessary ­damage is being inflicted on landscapes and wildlife in isolated locations by ­unnecessary masts and access tracks, with no evident public benefit, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds to taxpayers.

“We are also concerned at the ­aggressive imposition of this ­infrastructure on community, ­environmental, public and private landowners by the four big telecom companies.”

Campaigners also point out that the masts could soon become redundant because of satellite technology.

In addition, it seems that the rollout of the masts conflicts with the views of communication watchdog Ofcom.

In a letter to Richard ­Thompson MP, Glenn Preston, director of ­Ofcom for Scotland, stated that the SRN aims to “target mast locations that are likely to provide the most substantive ­benefits”. In its formal compliance methodology, Ofcom said that these sites would be “in ­areas where roads and premises are ­located”.

The Department for Science, ­Innovation and Technology (DSIT) also told the Sunday National: “­Publicly funded masts will be shared by all four mobile network operators to minimise impact on the ­environment and, wherever possible, the programme will utilise existing infrastructure.”

A spokesperson said: “The Shared Rural Network is a once-in-a-generation chance to bring fast, reliable 4G mobile coverage to the hardest-to-reach parts of the country, helping emergency services save lives, supporting tourism and driving economic growth. Regardless of the number of premises in some locations, the masts will provide coverage for those who live, work and explore in those rural communities.

“Local planning authorities are responsible for approving applications which form part of this programme.”

Members of the public can make their opinions known on the Rannoch mast appeal until July 3.