2017Search | Site Info | Site Map



Animal Health/


Land Reform









Book Reviews

Light Relief





Contact Us

Get Acrobat Reader



Back to Land Reform Homepage

7 January 2003

Scottish Natural Heritage’s Policy on Access

Is it being mis-sold in relation to enclosed Farmland next to Urban Communities?

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.

James Irvine
Farmer, Cultybraggan Farm, Teviot Agriculture, Comrie, Perthshire
Editor, LandCare Scotland, Teviot-Kimpton Publications, Edinburgh


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 farmer’s) 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 SNH’s 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 is recommended).

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 public’s boots are immune from carrying disease from one farm to another.

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 has incurred.

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.


Depressing Response

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 promoted.


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 words “tough”).



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 irresponsible.

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" - nonsense

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 farmer’s 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.