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Is this the acceptable face of responsible access to the Scottish countryside?

James Irvine

Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire

Filed 15 Jul 05

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC), which is an integral part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, emphasises the importance of responsibility both on the part of what is termed "the land manager" and on the part of the access taker. Many of the 1386 responses which Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) received to their consultation paper on access referred to the particular problems of farmland next urban settlements (1). However, SNH in its final recommendation to its boss - the Scottish Executive - chose to ignore this issue.

Figure 1:

Although "rights of way" already exist all round this silage field,
the public have made another path diagonally across it.
When the grass is shorter the field is frequently
used as a convenient dogs toilet.
Is this responsible access? If not, who is in control?

(to enlarge photo Click Here)

In Perthshire Cultybraggan Farm has a number of fields next to the large village of Comrie. One of these fields is shown in Figure 1.

This particular field - believe it or not - has "rights of way" all round it, and sign-posted by Perth and Kinross Council to that effect. This would have been reasonable many years ago when Comrie was a small rural community, with most of its inhabitants having predominantly rural interests - such as working on the land. In those days sign-posting would not have been necessary, as the rights of way were established to enable the local folk to get to work or to attend school, church or cemetery. The workings of the land and respect for its livestock, cultivations and wildlife would have been respected and few problems would have arisen.

But now the situation is very different. Today Comrie is a large village, bordering on becoming a town. Few of its inhabitants have rural interests as their main occupation, other than for their own recreation or as a ready convenience as a toilet for their dogs. Many inhabitants are either retired from the cities or use the attractive urbanised settlement as a dormitory while working elsewhere.

In the absence of any great education of the public on rural matters as promised by SNH during the consultation period on the Access Code (or indeed since its establishment), it is perhaps not surprising that the "landmanager"(i.e. the farm) and individual members of the public may have somewhat different views on what is "responsible" behaviour when taking access to the farm's land.

Thus, as shown in Figure 1, the public have created a path that goes obliquely through the field that already has rights of way all round it.

The Access Code is so drawn up that the public can have access to farm grass lands until such time as the grass that is to be harvested has reached ankle height. But if a path has already been created the grass will not grow there, due to compression of the soil and killing of the young shoots. Last year Perth & KInross Council access officers arranged for a notice to be placed by the field after the grass in the rest of the field had reached more than ankle height. But then of course the damage had already been done, and the damage perpetuated by walkers after the grass had been mowed and used for silage.

The dog is now recognised to be a definitive host for the protozoan parasite Neospora caninum. Acutely infected dogs can shed N. caninum oocysts (infective stage of the parasite) in their faeces. It is not known how long these oocysts can persist in the environment, but research into the closely related parasite Toxoplasma gondii has shown that the oocyst stage of the parasite can persist for several months in the environment remaining a source of infection to farm stock. Neosporosis is strongly associated with abortion in beef and dairy cattle worldwide, with heifers being the most susceptible to acquiring the disease via feeding. Transmission may occur from cow to its calf in utero so that, once the infection has been acquired in a herd, the consequences for the herd may be disastrous in the long term. There is no known means of controlling the infection once it has set in (2).

The Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) recently put out to consultation a draft of their Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill (3). SEERAD would do well not to neglect animal health and welfare issues when for their own political reasons it is convenient for them to do so. The control of disease does not recognise political preferences, such as open access to farm land next urban settlements.

It is all very well for the Scottish Executive to claim that, through its legislation, Scotland has the widest public access to the countryside. But this is a hollow boast if this facility is so miss-used that those who try to farm next urbanised settlements cannot do so effectively. After all, it is the farmer (sorry "land manager") who has maintained the countryside surrounding such settlements over many years.

Where an abundance of "rights of way" already exist, surely it is not too much to ask that, in the vicinity of urban settlements, people and their dogs should kindly keep to these "rights of ways", and let the farmer farm.



1. Editorial (2003). Re-drafted SNH SOAC pays little heid to consultation responses
See SCOTTISH OUTDOOR ACCESS CODE Homepage, filed 02 Dec 03, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View

2. Innes, Lee (2005). Feature article: "Neosporosis: a persistent problem in pregnant cattle?

3. Irvine, James (2005). Draft Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill. Response to SEERAD consultation document.
See ANIMAL HEALTH - GENERAL Homepage, filed 04 Jul 05, www,land-are.org.uk Click Here to View