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7 May 2003

Still deep divisions between landowners
and access seekers

Dan Buglass

Farmers Guardian, 2 May 2003

(Filed 7 May 2003)
www.land-care.org.uk

THE presumption of responsible access to the countryside is a key element of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act which was passed earlier this year by the Scottish Parliament.

However, it is clear there is still a divide between those who own rural Scotland and those who wish to exercise the right of access. That much was evident in Perth when the Scottish Landowners' Federation staged the first of a series of meetings to discuss the implications.

The basis of the new right to roam is contained in a consultative document - the Scottish Outdoor Access Code - drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage. Marian Silvester, the access officer with the SLF, made it clear she had her reservations concerning both the legislation and the SNH code. "I don't think this legislation is terribly well drafted," she said.

That opinion was echoed by Dr James Irvine, who farms near Comrie in Perthshire, who said he had a wide range of reservations regarding access.

"Frankly for someone like me, farming on the edge of a sizeable population, it is going to be very difficult to run a commercial business which is already under severe financial pressure."

All gates should be easily opened for those who wish to enjoy the countryside. But as Dr Irvine pointed out, that is fine in theory. "I have two pedigree beef herds and the stock bulls weigh around one tonne. They can cause havoc with gates. I am also told that electric fencing is discouraged beside footpaths. Do these people (SNH) realise the practicalities of farming?"

Clearly the SLF hopes there will be changes to the draft access code on a wide range of topics. SNH advises the public that “livestock can attack the public, particularly with a dog”. The counter to land managers is “keep animals known to be dangerous away from fields crossed by core pathways, or other well used routes. If this is not possible, tell the public and signpost a reasonable route”. That might make it very difficult for some farmers to put a bull out with a herd of cows.

Ramblers are advised not to walk through growing crops. Grass is one of Scotland's most important crops.

On this subject the code states: "Fields with thick long grass and no animals in them are probably grown for hay or silage. Trampling such grass when it is long, above ankle height (about eight inches or 20 cm), can make it difficult to harvest."

For land managers the message is: "Wherever possible, leave a field margin to help people exercise their rights and to support wildlife. In popular places you may wish to signpost a preferred route."

Much the same advice is given for shepherds: "Where possible, avoid putting sheep close to lambing in fields where there is a well used route."

While farm steadings, unless they are on an existing right of way, are off limits to walkers, the SLF view is there is a considerable measure of uncertainty in the wording of the code. There is also concern the right of access is not confined to the hours of daylight.

The SLF is broadly in favour of greater access, but it is clearly worried at the apparent lack of meaningful sanctions in the Land Reform Act. Persistent offenders against the code can be reported to local authorities, but it is likely to take a very long time before those individuals are pulled up in the courts.

Keith Arbuthnot, the vice convenor of the SLF, concluded: "The emphasis is on being reasonable and practical. But what does that really mean?"

 

Further Reading Recommended by Land-Care

Scottish Outdoor Access Code. SNH Publishes Consultation Document - 27 March 2003.
(Filed 27 March 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Arbuckle, Andrew (2003). SLF accused of lack of fight over access. The Courier, Friday 25 April 2003.
(Filed 25 April 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Will Access to Scotland’s Countryside be taken Responsibly?
(Filed 7 April 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Mylius, Andrew (2003). Land Reform and the Access Code: Problems and Unanswered Questions.
(Filed 26 February 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Mylius, Andrew (2001). Access: the Reality for Farmers, Landowners, Foresters and all Rural Residents. LandCare Scotland, Vol 1, pp. 3-18.
(Filed November 2002, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Raeside, Terry (2001). Veterinary Hazards to Open Access to Enclosed Agrciultural Land. LandCare Scotland, Vol 1, pp. 33-34.
(Filed November 2002, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Irvine, James (2003). SNH Conference September 2000 - Access to the Countryside. Report and Update 2003.
(Filed 22 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Irvine, James (2003). Scottish Natural Heritage’s Policy on Access. Is it being mis-sold in relation to enclosed Farmland next to Urban Communities?.
(Filed 7 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. SNH Recreation and Access Update.
(Filed 21 February 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Smith, Michael (2003). Uncalled for unwarranted ideological legislation. Letters, Dundee Courier, 7 January 2003.
(Filed 9 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Linklater, Magnus (2003). Land law with head in the clouds. Scotland on Sunday, 26 January 2003.
(Filed 28 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Linklater, Magnus (2003). From the Highlands to the Lowlands, in future it's going to be anybody's lands. The Times, 23 January 2003.
(Filed 28 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).

Linklater, Magnus (2003). Fair play on land reform swept away in a torrent of prejudice. Scotland on Sunday, 19 January 2003.
(Filed 20 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk, click here to view).