Back to Scottish Outdoor Access
Does SNH conduct itself as an honest broker, or
as a political manipulator?
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Perthshire and Edinburgh
Editor LandCare Scotland and www.land-care.org.uk
Filed 25 Oct 2003
The question needs to be asked whether
or not Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has been operating (and if
it continues to operate) with integrity in relation to its role
in advising Government concerning what is now the Land Reform (Scotland)
Act, and what is currently the draft SNH Scottish Outdoor Access
Code (SOAC) (1) upon which the Royal Assent
for the Act depends.
Major concerns arose from the conference SNH
held in September 2000 at Strathclyde University on the subject
of Access to the Countryside (2), and from
a press conference SNH gave at the Royal Highland Show in June 2000
(3). These same concerns continue and need
to be recognised, as Scotland through its Government and Government
Agencies (such as SNH) persist in contributing to the decline of
its natural heritage while claiming to do the reverse. But then
it all depends on what one chooses to call the natural heritage.
SNH Conference September 2000
The spin for the SNH conference held in September
2000 Enjoyment and Understanding of the Natural Heritage:
Finding the new balance between rights and responsibilities
(2) was 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 landmanagers and public bodies to promote
...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
In reality this conference, with its inferred
academic approval by holding it in a University building, was an
appalling sham. Neither the word farming or the word
agriculture appeared anywhere in the two day programme
including 21 items of presentation. The words land management
and landmanagers appeared twice. The selection of speakers
for the conference was unacceptably biased. The conference was held
midweek in September during the harvest and the registration fee
was £145. They did not get many farmers attending, but lots
of SNH and local government staff, plus plenty folk from numerous
access for recreation lobby groups. While pretending to be otherwise
the conference was a blatant misrepresentation of the core issues.
Hence the questioning of the integrity of SNH in relation to the
methods it used - and continues to use - to achieve its political
What this conference was supposed to be about
was trying to find a balance between access takers and access providers.
Farmers of one sort or another are the main access providers in
terms of area of land within Scotland. Some 85% of the land in Scotland
is involved in agriculture. Most farmers in Scotland manage their
land highly efficiently and to good environmental standards (4)
simply because it is very much in their interest to do so. Great
play has been made on the fact that farmers receive high levels
of subsidy, but little mention is made that these subsidies were
created through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to produce
cheap food and to maintain a rural population that can actively
care for the land. Now the Macauley Land Use Research Institue (MLURI),
that receives some 68% of its funding from SEERAD, would have us
believe that land use should change from production of food to the
recreational enjoyment of the urban majority - to become the urban
dwellers playground (5).
Scotland has to compete with other countries within
the UK. It also has to compete with other members of the EU in terms
of agricultural production, or it will find itself not only paying
out obligatory contributions to the EU agricultural fund but buying
in the food from the EU (and elsewhere in the world) where environmental,
animal welfare and food standards may not be as high. The economics
of Scotland, and of the UK as a whole, can hardly afford to knock
its balance of payments any further.
It is selfish to take the view that other countries
can bear the supposed environmental damage of farming, while we
buy their food and look after our own environment as dictated by
an army of ecologists and strong lobby groups with a monofocal approach
to some particular aspect of the environment.
It is misleading for the environmental lobby to
continually infer that Scotland's rural enviornment is not good,
and that the self-styled environmentalists are the only ones capable
of looking after it. In fact there is little wrong with Scotland's
rural environment and Scotland's farmers continue to be eager to
improve it. They do not need to be told how to do it by those who
have little training or experience in land management, and through
lack of knowledge or interest do not have a sufficiently broad and
So why could SNH not manage to put together a
semblance of a balanced programme for their two and a half day conference
on access to the countryside?
the organisers were being frankly devious,
their ignorance of how the land of Scotland is actually managed
- and by whom - is even more profound than meets the eye (6).
In my view both factors were probably operating.
What we had - and continue to have - is a power
struggle for control of the management of Scotlands land.
A whole industry of officials paid directly or indirectly by Government
- be they within SNH, government funded research agencies (such
as the Macauley Land Use Research Institute and the Scottish Agricultural
College), universities and colleges running mushrooming courses
on environmental management without any significant agricultural
input, or within local government that is required to comply (in
the absence of adequate funding) with the pronouncements of this
menagerie of opportunistic officialdom.
The greatest farce of all in relation to this
prestigiously-billed SNH Conference was the workshop entitled Countryside
around Towns. This was on offer on the afternoon before the
conference proper began (2). Now this should have
been important as the main impact of increased access to Scotlands
land by the public will be next urban settlements: and that means
farms, because that is where for reasons of geography the better
agricultural land is located.
But this workshop turned out to be nothing less
than a visit to a Glasgow City park and bore no relation to farming
next urban settlements, except in so far that the farming had all
but disappeared. The vestiges of a small dairy farm on the horizon
was given the sop of a contract to cut the grass - indeed a sign
of things to come.
This official workshop had the full backing of
the SNH hierarchy and indeed was attended by the secretary of the
Access Forum, Dr Richard Davison. A few pertinent questions
to the workshop leader - who was employed by Glasgow City Council
and who it was claimed had some previous but ill-defined connection
with farming - revealed the absurdity of the situation. Yet this
is what SNH was officially promoting to other members of the environmental
industry as to how the countryside around towns should be managed.
The next hour and a half was spent in direct discussion
with the secretary of the Access Forum as we had to wait for the
bus to take us back to the City, although we had never actually
left it. The substance of that discussion is available on this website
With regard to the main conference programme
the situation turned out to be even worse than simply just the obvious
imbalance of speakers relating to access taking and access providing.
There was an obvious problem with regard to who had been chosen
by the organisers to put forward the views of access providers.
For example, Richard Williamson, Strategy and Communication manager
of Buccleuch Estates, had been selected as speaker at the conference
proper on the subject of The Land Managers Perspective
- removing the blinkers.
According to Richard Williamson there were no
real problems for land managers with regard to access to the countryside
as proposed by SNH (i.e. to all land and inland water - with few
exceptions - day and night), but only perceived problems that constituted
a mind-set that need to be changed. In his facile, playing-to-the-gallery
type of presentation to a largely urban-based but potentially influential
audience - including those salaried by urban rate payers -the problems
of dogs, vandalism, and litter were not access problems but ones
of social behaviour and were not relevant to the debate.
The Duke of Buccleuch is one of the richest landowners
in Scotland with a massive estate with tourism as an important part
of its many faceted commercial enterprises. It bears very little
relationship to the average Scottish farming landowner. Richard
Williamson would appear to be the promotions man (the spin doctor)
for the Buccleuch Estates, is not involved in practical farm management,
and as far as I am aware has little or no practical farming experience.
But my concerns went even deeper than that. Some
members of the Scottish Landowners Federation (SLF), myself included,
were having difficulty in getting the powers that be within that
organisation to listen to our concerns over what SNH had proposed
in their advice to the Scottish Executive (7).
At the time the SLF appeared to be virtually wholly involving itself
in matters concerning property rather than the proposed radical
review of access rights that were shaping up to become open access
for virtually all land and inland waters for everybody at all times
without any credible control. How was one going to be able to manage
a livestock farm next an urban community on that basis?
At the time Richard Williamson was a member
of the SLF Access and Tourism Committee. At least for the years
1987-1988 (and presumably for several more years) he was also a
West Region Board member of SNH 1987-1988 (8)
. As a member of the SLF Access and Tourism committee was he following
the code of collective responsibility that might be expected of
that organsiation? He made no mention in his presentation that as
a member of the SLF Access and Tourism committee that the committee
may have had a different view from the one he presented. Or may
be the SLF committee on Access and Tourism agreed with him. As a
member of the SLF myself - and indeed as an elected member of its
Central Region Committee - its was difficult to know (9).
Was the SLF trading off concerns about access
to the countryside in the hope of getting a better deal with regard
to property? (10). Was that why some members
of the SLF at that time were having such difficulty in getting their
concerns heard within that organisation? One well remembers the
accusations addressed to those who had been for years providing
far more public access to their land per acre than most and had
done far more for conservation than most, being accused by the SLF
executive So you are against access! and You cannot
make your farm a fortress.
These accusations were unreasonable and they hurt,
as all we wanted to do was to be able to run viable farming enterprises
without further serious and unnecessary impediments being put in
the way which would clearly undermine competent farm management.
In the event these same concerns are very clearly expressed in the
responses from land managers - the biggest section of all the responses
- to the SNH draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code consultation paper
As though presenting Countryside around
Towns as nothing other than a Glasgow City park, and dismissing
concerns about open access to virtually all farmland as an
attitude problem, SNH continued with their severely biased
conference by including a presentation from a so-call independent
organisation (System Three) that SNH had commissioned to conduct
a telephone survey of The attitudes of the public and land
Such a survey would have no more credibility that
any other Mori-type poll, especially one where the views of those
who were paying for it were all too well known. Yet this was the
only other representation that the farming community
were allowed in this incredibly biased and manipulated conference.
However, even worse was yet to come. I attended
a workshop that was to do with Access with Responsibility
to River Banks etc. Unbelievably the leader of this workshop
was a graphic designer. He was there to advice the delegates what
signs might be used to implement the Access Code - that in the year
2000. There was no intention whatsoever to discuss access with responsibility
with a view to achieving a balance.
Yet even worse again . On presenting my views
in person to SNH chief scientist who I understand had been
in no small part responsible for organising the conference, he resented
criticism and thought the conference was fine. Whatever had happened
to his academic credentials, holding the title of Professor at Stirling
University? Had he forgotten that SNH is funded out of the public
purse, and that members of the public have every right to question
what SNH and the executive within it are doing?
Apparently such was their arrogance that SNH had
assumed that the Access Code would have been established in law
by the time of their conference. In other words their arrogance
was such that they assumed the opinion of the public through the
consultation process that occurred in 1999 could be ignored. The
trouble is that SNH may be following a similar line in relation
to the consultation on the same subject in 2003.
SNH Press Conference Royal Highland Show 2000
The misrepresentation by SNH of the problems
relating to such extensive open access to the countryside in Scotland
was all too apparent in the press conference given by SNH at the
Royal Highland Show, Ingliston in June 2000. A full account of that
press conference was been previously published in LandCare Scotland
(3) and can be view by CLICKING
In brief the deliberations of the Access Forum
that was set up by SNH were seriously misrepresented. For example
no mention was made of the concerns of the access providers that
had been made by the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS).
This tactic was justified by SNH as representing the consensus view
of the Access Forum. But as the Access Forum consisted of an excess
of access takers over access providers this was a seriously devious
tactic - a convenient and clever trick that is amongst
the oldest in the acknowledged repertoire of devious behaviour the
world over - you fix the committee for starters then spend the rest
of the time pretending that you are listening.
Local Workshops organised through SNH
Subsequent to the conferences described above,
SNH arranged for local meetings to take place to ask the local folk
where they would like to walk and take recreation on adjacent farmland,
using so-called independent contractors to run such meetings. In
my area no report of the outcome of such meetings was ever received
in spite of much asking. If local farmers had not read the public
notice for such meetings they had little opportunity to attend -
another SNH trick.
The objective seemed to be to raise expectations
among the public and to undermine the trust that had previously
existed. between access takers and those who managed the land as
legitimate business enterprises. It is my understanding that similar
meetings were held in Fife with similar disregard for the interests
of those who had the financial responsibility for managing the land
and who had done so much over the years in terms of public access
SNH Access Forum agrees by consensus
As already mentioned above, the Access Forum
consisted of an excess number of access takers over access providers.
This allowed the chairman Professor Jeremy Rowan Robinson
to write a report claiming consensus, where the main concerns of
the access providers were ignored.
This lead to the NFUS justifiably leaving the
negotiating table, while the SLF stayed - presumably working to
some other agenda whilst claiming that it is better to be at the
negotiating table than away from it. But what in my view the SLF
was in fact doing was condoning the grossly unfair conduct of the
Access Forum. As a lawyer the chairman was no doubt behaving within
the legal boundaries, but as a chairman of a forum that was trying
to obtain consensus between access takers and access providers his
actions were questionable, especially as it is alleged that he did
not pass on the concerns of the access providers up the executive
Essential to the condition of democracy is that
the interests of minorities are not brushed aside simply for the
convenience of the majority. To acquire the use of the assets of
businesses that have been built up by the efforts of individuals
and their families over many years just because it is the
will of the people is not democracy and never will be. It
is certainly not social justice.How are the responses to the draft
SOAC consultation to be assessed?
And so the SNH draft SOAC was born and put out
to consultation with a closing date of 30th June 2003. It ignored
most of the main concerns of land managers: the same concerns that
had been expressed in response to a previous consultation document
put out by the Scottish Office in 1999.
The 1386 responses to this consultation that
SNH received are secreted away in SNH offices at Battleby, Redgorton
some miles outside Perth and in one of their offices in Edinburgh.
An appointment is required to view them during normal urban office
hours. If you insist SNH will send you by internet the excel spreadsheet
listing the responses in order they were received, but the search
facility will make looking for specific responses from organisations,
groups or individuals possible. Not surprisingly very few persons
to date have been to view these responses, leaving SNH itself to
assess them, modify the draft Code and submit the final version
to Scottish Ministers and then let the public know what they have
done after the event. Land-Care was informed by SNH that they will
appoint a single independent person to scrutinise their
procedures. But is SNH to be trusted in view of their past record?
There is a consultation paper as to how the Access
Forum might be reconstructed before the final version of the Access
Code was drafted and agreed by the Access Forum. To Land-Cares
knowledge the re-structuring of the Access Forum has still not yet
happened more than 3 months after the closing date for responses
to be received. Is there to be a new chairman?
Again, as in the year 2000, SNH is going ahead
as though acceptance by Scottish Ministers of the next version of
the Access Code (written by the Access Forum) was a foregone conclusion.
Financial Assistance offered by SNH to organisations willing to
employ additional staff to sell the Access Code to their members
and to others.
SNH are already offering financial assistance
to organisations for the employment of staff to explain (i.e. sell)
the SNH Access Code to their members, all supposedly with no interference
The SLF has already appointed a new access officer
under such a scheme, the new officer having no experience or training
in farming/agriculture but has a good basic training in environmental
management, people management and communication (12).
But what is she supposed to be communicating, and does she understand
the issues as seen by access providers as well as access takers?
So what is all this charade of consultation? Do
we really believe that SNH funding for staff for other organisations
comes without strings attached, albeit informal ones? (12).
The Land Reform Act was passed before the Code was decided - whose
idea was that?
The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill and subsequently
the Act was drafted, consulted upon and then passed by the Scottish
Parliament before the realism of the practicalities of the Access
Code had been properly identified. Yet the nature of the Act determines
the parameters of what the Access Code can say. Thus Scottish law
is made in a big political hurry without due cognisance being taken
as to what is practical and realistic, or what damage it would inflict
on the farming industry that has been the main and excellent custodians
of the Scottish environment and biodiversity for centuries. Whether
SNH had any hand in this is not known to the author, but it is a
strange way to make new laws. Here we have a partially devolved
Scottish Parliament with much say about how the land of Scotland
is to be managed busy making bad laws in haste. A truly disappointing
Thus the Scottish Executive commissioned its
agency SNH - despite its minimal expertise in land management -
produce the Access Code,
put it out to consultation
judge the responses themselves,
redraft the Code themselves,
and then submit it to Scottish Ministers for their approval or
rejection although few of these ministers have any substantive
understanding of rural affairs.
SNH's analysis of the 1386 responses they have
received from the public will be made known to the public until
after SNH have submitted their report to Ministers. The difficulty
the public has in getting efficient access to these responses leaves
the way open for SNH to possibly be economic with the truth as to
what they report to MInisters. Indeed SNH may analyse the responses
with a highly biased mind-set. That is why it is so important to
assess if SNH can be trusted to act as an honest broker, and not
as a political manipulator.
1. Scottish Natural Heritage
(2003), SNH draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
2. Irvine, James (2001). SNH
Conference September 2000, Enjoyment and Understanding of the Natural
Heritage: Finding the new balance between rights and responsibilities.
A review of the proceedings.
LandCare Scotland. Vol 1: pp 25 - 32.
This paper has been reproduced with permission on Land-Care and
See Scottish Outdoor Access HOMEPAGE, filed 22 January 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
CLICK HERE TO VIEW
3 Irvine, James (2001). Scottish
Natural Heritages policy on Access: Is it being mis--sold
in relation to enclosed farmland next urban communities?
LandCare Scotland. vol 1: pp 19 - 23.
This paper has been reproduced with permission on Land-Care
See Scottish Outdoor Access HOMEPAGE, filed 7 January 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
CLICK HERE TO VIEW.
4. Scottish Countryside Alliance
(2003). SCA response to the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill.
See Environment HOMEPAGE, filed 24 Oct 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
HERE TO VEIW
5. Birnie, Dick (2003). In
"The Arrogance of Academics pontificating about Rural Affairs
Are they letting us down? ECRR Conference: Scotlands Landscape
- a Fixed Asset?
Battleby, Perthshire, 8th May 2003". James Irvine.
See Social/Economic/Political HOMEPAGE, filed 14 May 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
CLICK HERE TO VIEW
6. Editorial (2003). Who runs
Scottish Natural Heritage?
See Social/Economic/Political HOMEPAGE, filed 17 Oct 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
CLICK HERE TO VIEW
7. Mylius, Andrew (2001). Access:
the reality for farmers, landowners, foresters and all rural residents.
LandCare Scotland. Vol 1: pp 3 - 18.
This paper has been reproduced with permission on Land-Care
See Scottish Outdoor Access HOMEPAGE, filed 2002, www.land-care.org.uk,
HERE TO VIEW
8 Scottish Natural Heritage website,
9. Irvine, James (2003). Why
I resigned from the Scottish Landowners Federation and thereby from
its Central Region Committee.
10. Linklater, Magnus (2003).
Land law with head in the clouds. Scotland on Sunday, 26 January
Reproduced on Land-Care with permission
See Land Reform HOMEPAGE, filed 28 Jan 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
CLICK HERE TO VIEW
11. Editorial (2003). Draft
Scottish Outdoor Access Code: Lack of adequate public access to
the responses to consultation.
See SOAC HOMEPAGE, filed 3 October 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
CLICK HERE TO VIEW
12. Editorial (2003). SNH appoints
new access officer with no training or experience in farming/agriculture.
See SOAC HOMEPAGE, filed 4 October 03, www.land-care.org.uk,
HERE TO VIEW