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Analysis of responses to
SNH Draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code

James Irvine

Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire
Editor LandCare Scotland and www.land-care.org.uk

(Filed 29 September 03)
© www.land-care.org.uk

In reply to my e-mail to Bridget Dales (1) she kindly sent me a breakdown of 1362 of the 1386 the responses Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had received following the period of consultation that ended 30th June 2003 on the SNH's Draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code (2). The breakdown made available to me by SNH was only in terms of type of respondent and how they submitted their responses - not in relation to content. 96% of the responses came from Scotland. 60% were submitted by post, 30% by e-mail, 4% by both post and e-mail, 2.8% by fax, 2.4% online, 1.2% by completing a form at a meeting, and 0.4% by telephone.

The largest group of respondents was from individual landmangers/factors

SNH's figures showed that the largest group of respondents were from "individual land managers/factors" at 32.9%. This group were defined as "including individuals identifying themselves as farm, estate or golf course managers, factors responding on behalf of specific estates, Open Gardens".

An additional 2.8% came from "Land management interest groups - including NFUS, DMGs, DSFBs, gamekeepers, forest and timber"

A further 2.5% of responses came from "Land management business, including forestry companies and factors responding in a general capacity".

Thus 38.2% of the 1362 responses that were analysed were from those who were involved with managing land, in contrast to those who were interested in access to land without having financial or managerial responsibilities for it.

The second largest group to respond at 26.2% was classified very amorphously as "Other individuals - including individuals expressing an affiliation to multiple interests, or to no particular interest"

Individuals identifying themselves as "Individual recreational users" amounted to only 9.6%. Community Council accounted for 5%, and recreation and dog owning interest groups a further 4.2%. All other groups individually achieved smaller percentages.

It is clear that the responses from land managers and factors was by far the largest of all groups whose interests could apparently be allocated with some precision.

When I visited SNH at Battleby by Perth I managed to read over 500 of the responses in the order in which they were submitted, thus obtaining a significant feel for the tone of these responses. What came across loud and clear was the concern among land managers and factors regarding night access, field margins, biosecurity, fences and dykes, livestock, management of grass, horse riders, group activities, overuse of paths for inappropriate purposes, liabaility and rising insurance costs and of course dogs. There was concern about maintenance and costs resulting from such open access, and whether in reality there would be anything like adequate funding forthcoming. There was concern that no distinction had been made between the problems of land managers next urban settlements that are so different from those experienced in the wide open spaces. Access takers and land managers are likely to have differing ideas of what constitutes responsible behaviour, and there appeared to be no credible monitoring or system of control. There should be no surprise that many respondents protested against the free use of their assets for the commercial benefit of others.

Typical examples of repeatedly expressed views are:

"I worry about the effects of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It has been drafted by persons not involved in farming and my concerns are heartfelt and come from many years of farming."

"Farming is a livelihood and people’s recreation has to take secondary importance."

"Field margins are for conservation and biodiversity". The example of yellow hammers returning was well described by a respondent.

"The forty tenants of Eoligarry Township are angered by the draft proposal because we have, over many years, worked together with SNH to accommodate recommended walks and safe access to our land. This will do nothing to strengthen the relationship we have had with SNH" (This response was classed as coming from "Recreation and Tourism Businesses").

David Mellor, Deputy Chief Constable, Fife Constabulary - made it clear that no enforcement was possible in terms of the Access Code.

"The Act throughout seems to take from the landowner/farmer much of their management control, and creates a situation where recreational access takes precedence over other land uses. Why should land managers be responsible for extra costs arising from the public’s use of their assets?"

The Vice-Principal of the Scottish Agricultural College submitted a thoughtful and relevant review of some of the problems. The SAC has kindly given permission for this response to be published on Land-Care - it will appear as soon as Land-Care receives the electronic version from the SAC.

SNH has previously ignored representations to them

Over the years that preceded the production of this Draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code, SNH has been repeatedly informed of the concerns of landmangers and factors: through numerous individuals and organisations. Their concerns have been expressed through the press and the literature and at numerous meetings. Indeed they have been expressed at their own Access Forum only to be dismissed as being in the minority of a group of persons that was grossly imbalanced in favour of access takers rather than access providers. Within SNH's Access Forum it was therefore possible for the chairman (a lawyer) to declare that there was a consensus in favour of access takers. Such a cheap trick does not however stand up to analysis of the responses from the public to SNH's own consultation document.

The responses, although not in any meaningful database, are all there for anyone to see by appointment in the offices of SNH at Perth or Edinburgh. The risk of course is that few (especially among farmers) will have the time to go to one of these places and plough through sufficient of the responses to get a true feel as to the degree of understandable concern among what SNH hopes will be the access providers.

The irony of it all is why on earth was SNH charged with doing this task when it has so little experience itself of competent land management. A further irony is that SNH seems to have abandoned sense in relation to what it is supposed to be good at - conservation and biodiversity, which are at the centre of its monofocal experience.

Will SNH take account of the large number of responses to their consultation paper? Or will they continue with political manipulation?

The risk of course is that SNH, in trying to please its political and financial masters at the Scottish Executive, will use its position as progenitor and drafter of the Code as well as judge and jury of the responses. By such transparent manipulation they may well attempt to persuade the Scottish Parliament that all is fine, and that the Code with either no or only cosmetic modification can be accepted by the Scottish Parliament. That would be a serious travesty of justice - a contradiction of democracy.

Let us now see what SNH - and indeed the Scottish Parliament - is made of.

James Irvine
© www.land-care.org.uk


1. Irvine, James (2003). E-mail to Bridget Dales, SNH: Responses to Draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code Consultation.
Scottish Outdoor Access Code Homepage, Filed 23 Sept 03, www.land-care.org.uk, Click here to view)

2. Scottish Natural Heritage (2003). Draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code: a document for consultation.