Back to Land Reform
7 January 2003
Scottish Natural Heritages Policy on Access
Is it being mis-sold in relation to enclosed Farmland next to
A Report on the Press Conference held by SNH at the Royal Highland
Show, Ingliston, Edinburgh, June 2000
This article was written in June 2000 concerning an SNH Press
Conference at Scotland's largest forum where town and country meet.
Two and a half years on, for all the "consultation" that
has taken place, very little has changed.
Farmer, Cultybraggan Farm, Teviot Agriculture, Comrie, Perthshire
Editor, LandCare Scotland, Teviot-Kimpton Publications, Edinburgh
Copyright © Teviot-Kimpton Publications
If hype means the enthusiastic promotion
of an ideological objective with disregard for the practicalities
of realism, then the performance of deputy chief executive of SNH
(Michael Scott) at the SNH press conference on Access at the Royal
Highland Show on Friday 23rd June 2000 was a prime example.
He extolled the merits of fresh air and exercise
and how important it was for the public to have access individually
or in groups to anywhere in the countryside for a very wide range
of activities, including enclosed farmland next to urban communities
both day and night. He strongly emphasised that this was dependent
on responsible behaviour of the public when exercising their proposed
rights of access to all farmland. He went on to say that land mangers
would be able to manage how people exercise that right, and that
persons could lose the right of access if they abused it. SNH state
that if you are organising a large group or event, you should
consult the owner (read farmer); you may need their (read farmers)
permission (SNH magazine 2000: no. 18, p 5).
When asked (after reading his presentation from
a prepared paper) if he had listened to the representations made
to the SNHs Access Forum by the NFUS and by the SLF, he told
me that both these organisations had been in agreement with the
statements that he had just made publicly. When challenged on this
by inviting him to check with NFUS and SLF at the Show, his assistants
informed him that in fact neither of these bodies had signed up
to what he had just released at his press conference, but that both
these bodies had concerns as to its content. The concerns
of the SLF were not listed under Points of View on page 7 of SNH
magazine 2000, no 18 which was freely available at the SNH stand
where the press conference was given. The concerns of NFUS were
only referred to under the heading of privacy and crime. The accolade
provided by the Ramblers Association was published.
As Michael Scott was clearly not aware (or chose
not to be) of the concerns expressed by the NFUS and
SLF members on the Access Forum, I rehearsed them with him. I felt
competent to do so as I had been assured of these concerns through
the reports of local or regional committees of both these organisations
and from talking directly to the representatives of these organisations
on the Access Forum. The SNH answer was that local access forums
would be set up and that they would be responsible for managing
any problems. The number of such forums would be limited so that
each forum would serve a substantial area (one forum per Council
The myth that such forums could manage access
effectively was simply put forward without any attempt at credibility.
Rather it would be land managers who would be required
not to be obstructive or to interfere with people from exercising
the right of access, but they will be able to manage how people
exercise the right. Thus, land managers (e.g. a farmer working a
modest sized farm next to an urban community) would be expected
to communicate with the public as to his farming operations and
direct the public accordingly. How in reality can a livestock farmer
with virtually no staff and already immense bureaucratic burdens
be expected to be a park ranger as well in order to protect the
legitimate aims of his farming business, animal welfare and wildlife
conservation when his only resource is a committee many miles away?
Who is going to have time to serve on this regulatory committee
if it is to be effective and not just a talking shop. For that reason
the livestock farmer on an average sized farm next an urban community
is unlikely to be represented.
"Increased Ranger Provision" - idle promise
The SNH proposal that there be increased ranger
provision simply indicates that they have turned a blind eye to
what this would cost - monitoring the whole countryside day and
night 365 days in the year with each ranger working his/her 39 hours
a week and not wanting to be a countryside policeman in the first
place? I understand the present number of rangers for the whole
of Perthshire is three. I very rarely see one from one year to the
next. The plight of the NHS in Tayside is dire with a 12 million
pound overspend. The roads department of Perth & Kinross repeatedly
claim they have insufficient funds for repairs that are so urgently
needed for road safety. Schools are crying out for more resources.
In central Perthshire at the present time there
is no conceivable excuse for not taking exercise on account of the
facilities that already exist. Because there is perceived to be
a lack of paths in lowland Scotland (SNH magazine 2000: no 18, p
5 ), it is surely a matter of overkill to create a right of access
over all land including enclosed intensive farmland across the whole
of Scotland. Is such a provision so high on the priority list of
demands on government expenditure that such a comprehensive coverage
of access is thought to be money well spent, if indeed the project
is desirable in the first place?
No reference to Livestock Hygiene
How does the proposed freedom for the public to
access all farmland tally with the basic lesson in animal hygiene
given to student vets; wash your boots before you go on a farm and
wash them again when you leave it. Presumably SNH thinks that the
publics boots are immune from carrying disease from one farm
So it all comes down to trusting the public that
they will behave responsibly when they are given the legal right
to full access day and night to all farmland, and anyway it
is only a minority that cause trouble. But it is only the
minority that break any good law. Pleading with people to behave
responsibly does not mean that everyone will, as seen all too clearly
with football hooliganism - and what massive damage their behaviour
It also demonstrates how difficult it is to prevent
crime even in such a public place as the centre of a city. So why
increase the risk of disruption to farm management when the cry
is for ever higher food and animal welfare standards and ever dropping
incomes and more and more bureaucracy?
Questions to Roger Crofts - SNH Chief Executive
I asked Roger Crofts (SNH chief executive) at
the discussion that followed the SNH press release as to why the
SNH Access Forum had clearly failed to take into account the legitimate
concerns of modest sized farmers adjacent to towns. He simply stated
that SNH had a remit from the Scottish Executive to put into effect
the manifesto pledge of the labour/liberal democrat coalition; that
there was to be open access for all everywhere. What SNH was therefore
doing is putting into effect a political policy (the will
of the people) without due regard to the major problems to
agriculture that this would obviously incur. President Mugabe states
that when taking farmland from the whites is the will of the
people. The difference between Zimbabwe and Scotland is that
in the latter there is still thought to be a degree of fairness
when it comes to government activities and the way it handles its
electorate. The belief held by some that Government Agencies (such
as SNH) retain some objectivity and are not just pawns of the political
party that is currently in power, appears to be unfounded.
What was also depressing was the manner in which
the chief executive of SNH, his deputy and the secretary of the
Access Forum responded to the suggestion that there should be clearly
managed access on farmland next urban communities (where over 90%
of access is taken by the public); and that there should be some
fairness concerning the inequitable burden on some farms that happen
to have the amenity and the topography suitable for the public to
use them as essentially uncontrolled public parks. Public parks
in the cities are tightly controlled; thus the Royal Botanic Garden
in Edinburgh is heavily patrolled and indeed policed: it closes
at dusk and no dogs are allowed.
The invariable response to any attempt at achieving
a logical discussion about access to the outdoors, was the hopelessly
facile one of so you are against access?
The SNH executive appear to be so out of touch
that they do not realise that among those who are most concerned
about essentially uncontrolled access are those who have done most
to promote good access in a controlled manner to their properties,
so that the amenity of the property, wildlife conservation and the
economy of the business can be sustained.
Mortonhall of no relevance to Open Access to Farmland in general
While advocating open access to all farmland,
the SNH point to what they appear to regard as their jewel pilot
scheme at Mortonhall as an example of good access management. Mortonhall
on the outskirts of Dalkeith I would submit has no relevance to
a small intensive farm producing high quality livestock next a town.
Mortonhall is the development of a commercial tourist activity in
a highly managed area as part of a large estate. The access is highly
managed and highly financed - with extensive fencing and gates and
paths costing (it is alleged) some £15,000 for 8.5 kilometres.
To offer Mortonhall as an example of access, while at the same time
promoting essentially uncontrolled access to farmland throughout
the country, is simply to deceive. The idea that if you put enough
signs up the public will follow them, but at the same time saying
that they will have a legal right to go essentially unimpeded anywhere
they like (except those part of fields where crops - but excluding
grass - are actually growing) is to be naive.
In reality politicians are not that naive, so
that they know fine well the miss-information they are promoting
in order to achieve their ideological dogma of almost total freedom
of access anywhere that is farmland and inland waters (apart from
the concession already covered by law that this does not extend
to sheds containing valuable farm machinery and tools, cattle courts,
food storage areas and storage areas for chemicals and pesticide,
the farm house or its garden!).
However if a right of way exists (that was initially
set up many decades ago to facilitate workers to go to church and
go about their business) that goes through the farmyard, then it
is at the discretion of the local community mainly made up of urban
oriented persons to decide whether an alternative route could be
Promotion of Access to Farmland for the financial benefit of others
When asked as to the fairness of individuals
or indeed communities seeking commercial gain for themselves by
advertising walks on rights of ways over adjacent farmland at the
expense of the local farmer, there was no coherent reply ( in other
When challenged about security and the increasing
level of crime in the countryside, the answer from the SNH executive
was appalling. Crime in the countryside exists already and that
is not their problem. They do not consider (because it does not
suit their purpose) that to give legal access day and night is likely
to increase the incidence of crime. The fact that the police have
clearly stated that they do not have the manpower to control crime
in the countryside is stated not to be a concern of the SNH Access
Forum. The reply to that must surely be as follows; a hazard is
where there is a recognised possibility of an adverse incident happening;
risk is the probability of that adverse incident actually happening.
By actively promoting legal access to farmland
day and night the SNH are knowingly substantially increasing the
risk of a well established hazard - crime. I believe this to be
Perhaps the most depressing statement of all coming
from the lips of the chief executive of SNH when he clearly saw
that he and his staff were not going to be able to logically counter
the concerns that had been expressed was that it is going
to happen anyway, because it is the will of the people. What
then is the point of the charade of consultation that the government
has indulged in, when the agency that it has employed to put their
policy into effect is simply not prepared to listen over the past
year and or so to what is called consultation.
"Not many people are going to use Access to Farmland"
Another line that SNH take in defence of their
open access to everywhere in the countryside, is that it is
not going to lead to a great flood of people going onto farmland.
This of course is disingenuous, when the farmland immediately available
would make a very nice, essentially un-monitored public park on
the doorstep of their housing estate, established and maintained
as long as it lasts at the farmers expense. If they are correct,
then what is the need for the new legislation? Is the need just
to create a populist vote at others expense?
So what is Responsible Access?
So what is responsible access that Michael Scott
laid so much emphasis on in his press conference and in his interview
on Landward on Sunday 25th June 2000. There is as yet no agreed
Access Code. At present I understand the draft is some 20 pages
long. The access code when it emerges will have no legal standing.
Jim Wallace in his address at the SLF Conference
at Napier University earlier this year compared the proposed Access
Code to the Highway Code. The differences are of course obvious:
the highway code by definition only applies to the clearly defined
and delineated area of the highways - the countryside code is to
cover the whole country with terrain which is only accessible with
some difficulty and delay. Although the highway code is not law,
if one is seen to break it even without causing an accident, there
are severe penalties that can readily be enforced. The police state
that they do not have the manpower or the budget to put in place
the technology that is required to monitor the highways as effectively
as they would like. What chance the whole of the countryside? Again
the public are forever being advised to behave responsibly on the
highway but many continue knowingly not to do so. The police have
stated often enough how difficult it is to catch criminals in the
countryside and produce sufficient evidence in court to gain a conviction,
that is simply hardly worth their time to try. The burden will be
put on the farmer and many farmers next urban communities will simply
not have the resources to deal with the matter. When was the last
time you heard of a vandal on a farm being convicted and when did
one last hear of a litter lout on farmland being called to book?
Education - what Education?
I raised the matter of lack of any attempt at
education of the adult public as to behaviour in the countryside
at the last AGM of SNH. To date no coherent countryside code is
available even in relation to existing rights of way over farmland
in the context of modern farming. What law has ever been introduced
when the code of behaviour is being introduced at the same time,
leaving no pause for the draft countryside code to be tried and
tested, and when no education process for adults has even yet begun?
SNH a pawn in Political Hype - where is Credibility?
We have all become rather too aware of certain
politicians concentrating on hype (spin doctoring) rather than substance.
SNH should be concerned about its own image as it would appear that
its is all too readily falling into the same trap in coming to believe
in its own hype. In particular it should take careful stock of its
own activities in relation to the Access component of the proposed
Land Reform Bill, if it is to retain any semblance of being a fair
and balanced body, rather then a political pawn of whatever party
or parties are currently in power.
FOOTNOTE - Two Years On
This article was written in June 2000 concerning
an SNH Press Conference at Scotland's largest forum where town and
country meet. Two and a half years on, for all the "consultation"
that has taken place, very little has changed.
Copyright © Teviot-Kimpton Publications