Back to Land Reform
22 January 2003
SNH Conference September 2000
Enjoyment and Understanding of the Natural Heritage: Finding
the New Balance between Rights and Responsibilities
A Review of the Proceedings
Dr. W. James Irvine, DSc, FRSEd, FInstBiol, FInstD, FRCPEd, FRCPath(London)
Farmer, Cultybraggan Farm, Teviot Agriculture, Comrie, Perthshire
Editor, LandCare Scotland, Teviot-Kimpton Publications, Edinburgh
Director, Teviot Scientific Consultancy, Edinburgh
Reproduced, with minor updates, from LandCare Scotland, Vol. 1:
This report was written in September
2000, but is relevant in January 2003 as it reflects the level of
integrity (or lack of it) concerning the manner in which SNH (and
its Acess Forum) has handled the problem of Access to the Countryside
in relation to the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.
© Teviot Scientific Consultancy
The annual Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Conference
for the year 2000 was held at the McCance Building, University of
Strathclyde between Wednesday 13th and Thursday 14th September 2000,
with a choice of field trips on the previous Tuesday afternoon.
The subject of the conference is of course highly
topical. When drawing up the programme the organisers of the conference
had somewhat arrogantly predicted that the next version of the proposed
Land Reform Bill would have been published by the Scottish Executive
as a consultation document, together with a version of the new country
code also for consultation. In the event the publication date for
both of these items had been postponed by the Scottish Executive
to February 2001. They had encountered serious disagreements on
the way which frankly they should have anticipated - that is if
they were genuinely interested in listening to what the public had
The introductory preamble published in the Final
Circular and Booking Form made available by SNH stated:
"....the conference will seek to stimulate debate about
the definition of responsible behaviour, the methods available
to assist in promoting enjoyment while minimising impacts, and
about the roles of land managers and public bodies in working
together to facilitate access...."
".....The conference will provide an ideal opportunity to
share research and experience and contribute directly to the development
and promotion of a new Scottish Outdoor Access Code".
These plausible proclaimed aims in fact turned
out to be a meaningless facade for the furtherance of the political
dogma perpetrated by SNH following the instruction of its paymaster,
the Scottish Executive, to implement the Labour/Liberal Democrat
manifesto for increased access to the countryside. Consultation
in name, but a devious sham in practice.
The Conference Programme
On looking through the programme I was struck
by the fact that neither the word "agriculture" nor the
word "farm" appeared anywhere in the two day programme
including 21 items of presentation. The words "land management"
and "land managers" appeared twice. This indeed seemed
curious since the vast majority of land in Scotland is involved
in agriculture, and the majority of "land managers" must
therefore be involved in some form of agriculture. Farming is a
very important part of the rural economy, the rural landscape and
conservation. Its characteristics are very variable across the country
and are often very different from those of large sporting estates.
Yet as far as this important conference was concerned, they were
all grouped together into two papers talking about land mangers
and land management. Also I felt some unease about farmers being
referred to as land managers - managers for whom?
Could it be that SNH is seriously out of touch
with the realities of land management in Scotland and the real problems
that exist in providing such wide access for public recreation?
It would appear that the Scottish Executive had charged SNH to implement
the labour/liberal democrat coalition's manifesto commitment, as
they (the coalition) had the majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament?
Or was it that the organisers of this conference were all too aware
of the problems and were making as sure as possible that these concerns
had little or no chance to be ventilated? Was that why the conference
was held mid week over three days during harvest?
On contacting the SNH Chief Scientist's Unit in
Edinburgh I was informed that two of the papers (these were the
two with the words "land management" and "land manager"
in their titles) would cover the agricultural interest: namely the
paper to be given by Richard Williamson of Buccleuch Estates Ltd
and the System 3 survey to be presented by Tom Costly. When asked
if SNH had sought any external advice about drawing up the programme,
so as to ensure a fair representation of interests in this highly
important subject, I got a very unclear answer. I was left with
the impression that the organisers were highly biased in their aims
and had not made any serious attempt to ensure that farmers/land
managers had a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the debate
as to how "public enjoyment and understanding can be harmonised
with other land uses" etc as described in the introduction
to this article and quoted from SNH's Booking Form. It also seemed
a little odd that farming came under the category of "other
land uses" in the eyes of the conference organisers (SNH).
Could it be that the public were invited to attend
a conference that was highly biased and based on "spin-doctoring
hype" so that SNH could facilitate the implementation of the
proposed bill, and not act as it should as an independent advisor
to Government? Was SNH just a selling machine for the Scottish Executive?
Were participants really going to get an opportunity at the Conference
to "contribute directly to the development and promotion of
a new Scottish Outdoor Access Code" as promised in the Final
Circular and Booking Form?
I completed the booking form, paid my dues (a
staggering £145) and in due course went along to see.
Of the three field trips that were on offer I
opted for the one entitled "Countryside around Towns",
as this seemed to me one of the most contentious areas in the Access
component of the proposed Land Reform Bill. It also seemed highly
relevant to the situation of my farm that abuts with much of the
village (now almost a town with approximately 3000 inhabitants)
of Comrie in Perthshire. Here there are very real difficulties in
accommodating open access for such urban-thinking dwellers and conducting
a high quality farming enterprise, including the breeding of pedigree
cattle (Aberdeen Angus and Limousin), running a commercial suckler
herd, a commercial sheep enterprise, growing barley for malting,
and grass for silage as winter feed for livestock, and doing one's
best for conservation of wildlife and the amenity of the area with
its delightful landscape (1). Numerous "rights
of way" on the farm have already been claimed by the District
Council (although the legality of some of these is questionable).
So why the need for even more access that was clearly going to threaten
the effective management of the farm and undo efforts that the farm
has made to conserve wildlife?
In the event a group of some twenty participants
were taken by coach to a piece of land that seemed to me to be within
the city of Glasgow. I had difficulty in believing we had arrived
after such a short trip as I had seen no evidence of any countryside
and far less evidence of any farming. We dismounted from the bus
directly on to a city street and stood on immaculate tarmacadam
looking at a substantial walled pond with swans gliding gracefully
about in the tranquil water, that was in turn surrounded by immaculately
mown grass. There was some scrub area extending beyond that, bearing
witness to the architectural disaster of previous years in the form
of the massive high rising building known as Easterhouse. This area
did not look like countryside as I understood it. It looked like
a City Park. There was not a cow, sheep, horse or any other farm
animal in sight. There were no crops to be seen, but a tarmacadam
path went through the scrub land connecting these high rise buildings
with the rest of the City of Glasgow. We were told that drugs were
a major problem in the area. When I asked who owned it, I was told
that it was owned and maintained by Glasgow City Council. It was
a city park.
City parks are absolutely admirable and have
been created by architects for cities for centuries with excellent
effect and function. However, they have little to do with the problems
of access to the countryside. What a con! What an obvious deception!
We were told that the agriculture that had previously
been there had all gone. The only integration with agriculture was
the pathetic claim that the small dairy farmer who still survived
away in the distance at the far boundary of this park got part of
the contract to cut the grass in the park. However, the Glasgow
City Council and other charitable bodies apparently had difficulty
in meeting the expense of keeping the grass cut and planting new
grass. Ideas of introducing cattle to keep these rough parts under
control (they looked like neglected set-a-side) with removable fencing
seemed to me unrealistic; especially so in terms of modern controls
on access to cattle by young children, elderly people and indeed
the public at large. What they would be doing was to create a form
of zoo that had very little to do with agriculture. But then we
were told that the park keeper (or was he called a ranger?) knew
about farming, because at some stage he had worked on a farm, but
in what capacity or for how long was not revealed.
One-to-One Discussion with the Secretary of SNH's Access Forum
As there was clearly no further useful information
to be gained from merely visiting a city park, I took the opportunity
to have a prolonged one-to-one discussion with Dr Richard Davison,
Secretary of the SNH Access Forum and whom I had previously encountered
at the SNH press conference on Access at the Royal Highland Show
earlier in the year (2). He happened to be on the
same field trip. Apparently therefore this farce of a field trip
had the full approval of the hierarchy of SNH.
Having been responsible financially for, and
been the director of, a 540 acre farm on the boundary of a substantial
urban settlement for 11 years (and managed it myself for the past
3 and half years), I felt my credentials were at least adequate
in terms of knowing what the problems are in terms of a traditional
mixed stock/arable farm - and especially in terms of increased public
access. I also had credible credentials in terms of scientific background
and company management. I found that a similar level of experience
was not forthcoming in Dr Davison's case. His agricultural experience
appeared to me to be anecdotal and basically lacking: in fact I
got the impression it was virtually non-existant.
When asked why the programme for the meeting appeared
to be so biased, and when asked if SNH had sought advice about its
conference from other bodies in order to try and achieve a satisfactory
balance, he resented the criticism. He was reminded however that
SNH is a government agency and is ultimately answerable to the public.
Also the public had been invited to subscribe to the conference
in order to take part in the debate. My personal assessment of the
calibre of the secretary of SNH Access Form was that he did not
have the breadth of view or knowledge that would appear to me to
be essential in order to properly fulfil that role. His arguments
seemed to be based on "cleverness", trying to catch one
out on some detail rather than facing the real issues. Dr Davison,
as secretary of the Access Forum, seemed to me to have a very one-sided
approach - to put into effect a political dogma without facing up
to the real problems that exist. Nor indeed was he prepared to enter
into a serious discussion about these very real problems.
Such an attitude is not compatible with his position
as Secretary of the Access Forum, when he should be seen to be open
to objective and rational consideration of the views of the different
bodies involved in "Access with Responsibility". After
all, that was what the present conference was supposed to be all
There seemed to be a real problem as to whether
the role of SNH was to simply deliver Scottish Executive policy
(that was still under debate) or whether SNH was feeding back imbalanced
advice to the Scottish Executive as to how real problems should
be managed. Was it that the Access forum with Dr Davison as Secretary
was feeding back to the Scottish Executive the very one-sided views
of certain individuals within the forum, or was it the other way
Certainly the field trip that had been organised
supposedly to highlight and discuss problems of managing the countryside
around towns was a non-starter and was frankly misleading. Under
the trades description act I would be justified in asking for my
money back. However, it did give me a revealing insight into the
"workings" of the Access Forum and of SNH itself.
Could it possibly be that more of the same highly
warped agenda was to continue the next day, the next evening and
the day after that?
The Main Conference
As mentioned above, agriculture is involved in
the vast majority of land in Scotland in one way or another and
is clearly central to any discussion on access. The rights and responsibilities
of those using these proposed rights need to be openly debated,
as do rights and responsibilities of those providing the access.
The word "landowner" never appeared at all in the programme
of 21 speakers. Yet all land in Scotland is owned by someone who
carries the financial responsibility for it. Many of these landowners
are small to average-sized family run farms. Were they getting any
say at this conference? There was not a trace of evidence that that
was the case.
The majority of the delegates at the conference
came from Councils or from SNH itself, their substantial fees all
being paid by the tax-payer. Any farmer wanting to attend had to
pay his own and nobody was representing his concerns at his meeting,
as far as the programme was concerned. Apart from the absurd timing
of the conference, it was therefore no surprise that very few farmers
were there. It was largely SNH talking to itself, to council employees
who would be given greater powers (but no defined finances), to
ramblers (who would get plenty advantages at no cost to themselves)
and to members of the business community who could see financial
opportunities for themselves unrelated to agriculture.
The conference was opened by SNH chairman, Dr
John Markland, who is an ex-executive of Fife Council and who, as
far as I am aware, has no significant experience of farming (or
"land management", as SNH likes to call it).
A balance needs to be struck to avoid further
damage to agriculture, which currently is in serious depression
and has major (and increasing) commitments to quality and environmental
assurance schemes. The programme of the conference was ridiculously
weighted towards open access with lip service as to how responsible
behaviour was to be achieved. The only contribution concerning education
was limited to the pre-school years. Yet the proposed Countryside
Code was all to be based on trust and responsibiity - nice words,
but in the presence of a culture that has one of the worst reputations
in Europe for litter, an extraordinary lack of understanding of
rural matters and no adult education on the subject, they were meaningless
hype. I will therefore confine my reviews of individual papers to
the two papers that I was told represent the farming interest.
From the CVs provided in the conference documents,
there was no evidence that I could see that either of these two
speakers had any significant professional training (or substantial
hands-on professional work experience) in agriculture as it is predominantly
practised in Scotland.
The Land Manager's Perspective - Removing the Blinkers
Strategy & Communications Manager, Buccleuch Estates Ltd
He emphatically and categorically stated that
there were no real problems for land managers with access to the
countryside, only perceived problems. He presented a facile, playing-to-the
gallery type of presentation. This to an audience where it would
have been much more important to explain what the real concerns
and anxieties many land mangers have in relation to providing the
scope of access that the Scottish Executive are proposing with the
advice of SNH (open access to all land and all inland water - with
few exceptions - day and night for everyone).
Richard Williamson went on to say that the problems
of dogs, vandalism and litter were not access problems but ones
of social behaviour and were not relevant to the debate. Clearly
Richard Williamson was either ignorant of the fact that a hazard
is the realisation that a damaging event could possibly happen,
while risk is the probability of that event actually happening;
or that he chose to ignore the fact. According to the doctrine of
Richard Williamson it is alright to actively promote and legalise
access day and night to farms knowing full well that by so doing
the risk of damaging events happening on farms will escalate. I
believe that is an unacceptable attitude to take in relation to
small farms run as family business and who have little margin to
absorb such increased costs. Indeed, I would doubt if such a massive
estate as Buccleuch Estates Ltd (400 square miles) would in reality
be prepared to accept it either, whatever their promotion manager
(spin doctor) might say in public. In any event it would seem to
me to be entirely inappropriate for one of the largest estates in
the country backed heavily by inherited wealth to put forward a
spokesperson on the general topic "Land Manager's Perspective"
and be so thoughtless in relation to others in agriculture, who
are not in a position to take on such enormous additional burdens
in terms of security, animal welfare and animal health (3),
and property maintenance (4). In my view this was
an opportunity taken by the Buccleuch Estates for what they presumably
calculated as a promotional benefit to themselves - calculated to
improve their image with the public, SNH and the Scottish Executive.
In doing so, did they consult with their tenant farmers? Would their
tenant farmers risk speaking against the wishes of the Promotion
and Strategy Manager of the Estate? It was commented to me afterwards
that substantial parts of the Buccleuch Estates are closed to the
public. Was our speaker being totally honest, or was he behaving
like a second-hand car salesman? It sounded suspiciously like the
As if Richard Williamson had not done enough damage
in dis-educating this important audience largely made up of SNH
staff, Local Government Council staff and independent advisers (who
are hired by these bodies to write endless repetitive reports),
he went on to dismiss the real concerns that have been repeatedly
expressed by the NFUS and SLF concerning access to enclosed farm
land at night, especially in the vicinity of urban communities.
According to Richard Williamson the possibility of imposing a "curfew",
as he put it, on access at dusk was intolerable. Richard Williamson
clearly had no concern for the family farm where this would indeed
cause very serious anxiety and a lack of security, especially in
view of the presently rising crime figures affecting farms. Again
Richard Williamson's comprehension of the meaning of the words hazard
and risk seemed to be sadly lacking. Rather he wished to appear
personally popular, and indeed received a loud round of applause
for his "entertaining" but facile and misguided performance.
His paper is scheduled to appear in a book to be published by SNH
(5) and no doubt will be quoted by those who wish
to promote access but avoid the responsibilities.
One has to wonder how Richard Willaimson came
to be chosen as one of only two representatives among the speakers
with the brief to put across the land mangers' view relating to
finding the right balance between rights and responsibilities. Obviously
the agenda was "cooked" to SNH's biased aims, and not
to the recipe that should have been used - to get a balance between
Access and Responsibility.
"Attitudes of the Public and Land Managers"
Director of System Three
As this study was based on a Telephone Centre
type enquiry, it was in my view largely worthless. Such enquiries
are so dependent on the actual questions asked, the way they are
asked and who does the asking that the results are probably meaningless.
In these circumstances the outcome can be readily geared to the
perceived wishes of the body commissioning the contract. Frankly,
there would be little merit in repeating the "findings"
here. It amounted to a kind of Mori Pole that claimed to reflect
the views of "landmanagers" i.e. that there was no great
problem about the extent of access that SNH was proposing. I think
the farming community deserves better than that, if this was what
their "representation" amounted to.
Clearly both the above mentioned speakers had
been chosen by the SNH Executive to present a very one-sided view
of this important topic.
I went along to the workshop I had selected -
to do with Access with Responsibility to River Banks etc. (i.e.
Inland Water). Unbelievably the leader of the workshop was a graphic
designer. There was no intention whatsoever to discuss Access with
Responsibility and to achieve a balance. This was simply to design
notices according to what the SNH had already decided!
I already have had enough of so-called "consultation"
from Perth & Kinross Council. I thought SNH might at least have
been a bit more honest, when they charged me £145 to take
part in a conference to discuss balance in the equation Access versus
Responsibility. The conference was severely "rigged" and
indeed a fraud.
I left unable to tolerate such deliberate misleading
of the public. The prospect of going to the dinner to hear a speech
from the chairman of the Ramblers Association as guest speaker also
did not appeal. The absurd imbalance of presentation at this conference
Discussion with the Chief Scientist SNH
On my way out I had the opportunity of meeting
the Chief Scientist for SNH on the front steps of Strathclyde University.
Strangely he thought the conference was fine. He clearly resented
criticism. He gave me the impression that the SNH was above everyone
else and really did not like being questioned as to what they thought
they were doing: i.e. as to why the conference was so obviously
rigged. Whatever happened to his academic credentials? Had he forgotten
that SNH is funded from the public purse, and that members of the
public have every right to question what SNH and the executives
within it are doing. He did not see any reason why SNH should have
sought input from other bodies such as NFUS or SLF, for example.
If running such a biased meeting in which any
attempt at correcting the imbalance of presentation was so strongly
resented, what is going on within the SNH the rest of the time,
behind closed doors and "advising" government?
SNH are clearly using their position to further
the views of some inner group by unscrupulous manipulation, under
the pretence of seeking consultation with the wider public.
My experience at the conference bore out the strong
impression I got at the press conference SNH gave at the Royal Highland
Show 2000 (2).
SNH (among others) have been keen to highlight
bad landowners and have endeavoured to give all landowners a bad
name. In fact the majority of landowners (and tenant farmers) look
after the countryside well; as testified by the good state of the
landscape, quality of livestock and other farm products and the
quality of the wildlife. Perhaps it is more than time attention
is also focused on bad planners and bad government advisors with
personal and imbalanced agendas - planners and advisors who use
the public purse to put forward their unrealistic schemes in a less
than transparent manner.
The claim that "....the conference will seek
to stimulate debate about the definition of responsible behaviour,
the methods available to assist in promoting enjoyment while minimising
impacts, and about the roles of land managers and public bodies
in working together to facilitate access...." was clearly false.
The choice of presentations was absurdly biased
against the majority of those in Scotland who actually manage the
land, who have looked after it well for centuries and who have produced
a world aclaimed standard of food and drink, as well as landscape.
Under the guise of academia the conference was
no more than an exercise in political spin.
Clearly there is something far wrong with SNH.
It came as no surprise that (some time after the
conference) the NFUS walked out of the Access Forum, which is an
agency of SNH. The NFUS had called a meeting with the Chairman of
The Access Forum when they learned direct form him that the Consensus
that the Forum had claimed for Access with Responsibility (The Draft
Country Code) had been contrived by omitting all reference to controversial
points, i.e. those made by people whose livelihood is made from
the land and who have looked after it over the years so well (the
The Access Forum had decreed not to pass on the
points made by the NFUS and by the SLF to the Scottish Executive.
Clearly, yet again the SNH had been indulging in a fraudulent farce
- pretending to be seeking a balanced solution, but in the end just
discarding very serious concerns that did not fit their book. These
are not the actions of an honest broker.
1. Cultybraggan Farm on Land-Care.
2. Irvine, W. J. (2001). Scottish
Natural Heritage's Policy on Access to the Outdoors. Is it being
mis-sold in relation to enclosed Farmland next to Urban communities?
LandCare Scotland, 1: 19-23. (Reproduced
3. Raeside, T. (2001). Land Reform:
Response to Scottish Executive Proposals for Legislation. Veterinary
Hazards to Open Access to Enclosed Agricultural Land. LandCare Scotland,
1: 33-34. (Reproduced
4. Mylius, A. (2001). Access:
The Reality for Farmers, Landowners, Foresters and all Rural Residents.
LandCare Scotland, 1: 3-18. (Reproduced
5. Enjoyment and Understanding
of the Natural Heritage. Edited by Micahel B. Usher. The Stationery
Office, 2001. ISBN 0 11 497290 7
Further Reading Recommended by Land-Care
Linklater, Magnus. From the Highlands to the Lowlands, in future
it's going to be anybody's lands. The Times, 23 January 2003. (View
Linklater, Magnus. Fair play on land reform swept away in a torrent
of prejudice. Scotland on Sunday, 19 January 2003. (View
Irvine, W. J. (2001). Scottish Natural Heritages Policy on
Access. Is it being mis-sold in relation to enclosed Farmland next
to Urban Communities? LandCare Scotland, 1: 19-23.
Uncalled for unwarranted ideological legislation. Dundee Courier,
Letters, 7 January 2003. (View
Justice 2's legal expertise in doubt. Letter from Robbie Douglas
Miller, Vice-chairman, Highlands and Islands Rivers Association.
Scotland on Sunday, Letters, 22 December 2002. (View
No Corners Cut on Land Reform Bill. Letter from Pauline McNeill,
MSP and Convenor of the Justice 2 Committee. Scotland on Sunday,
Letters, 15 December 2002. (View
Watson, Jeremy. Scotland's first 'land grab' victim. Scotland on
Sunday, 8th December 2002. (Click
here to view).
Linklater, Magnus. Land Reform Falls Foul of Scotlands own
Kangaroo Committee. Scotland on Sunday, 1 December 2002. (Includes
editorial comment from Land-Care). (Click
here to view).
Mylius, A. (2001). Access: the Reality for Farmers, Landowners,
Foresters and all Rural Residents. LandCare Scotland, 1: 3-18. (View
Raeside, T. (2001). Veterinary Hazards to Open Access to Enclosed
Agrciultural Land. LandCare Scotland, 1: 33-34. (View
Linklater, Magnus. Sniggering snobbery puts Scots in a class of
their own. Scotland on Sunday, 27 October 2002. (View
Linklater, Magnus. New spirit of Western Isles derring-do will not
come cheap. Scotland on Sunday, 20 October 2002. (View
Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. (View
© Teviot Scientific Consultancy