Long-running problems with public access and alleged threatening behaviour on a Highland estate have prompted plans to stage a walking protest later this month.
Image copyright: Richard Webb. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives us all the right of responsible access to land in Scotland. Although most landowners have adapted themselves to the law there remain occasional exceptions. At the Ledgowan estate near Achnasheen in Wester Ross, which includes parts of Munro Moruisg, local residents and visiting walkers have complained about an obstructive attitude to access, and even intimidation by estate workers and owners.
Issues discussed on forums such as Hilltalk and repeatedly at the Ross and Cromarty Local Access Forum include locked gates, obstruction of a public road, and some odd-sounding confrontations involving aggressive haranguing and photographing people and cars.
Is there a connection, in spirit at least, between the estate's attitude to the public and the way that its managers treat the environment?
Aside from locking gates and allegedly bullying people the Ledgowan estate, owned by a Mr Andrew Simpson through Yorkshire-based firm Rainheath Ltd, has bulldozed a controversial 18km of tracks through the hills, making use of a planning loophole that the Scottish Government recently decided not to close (see UKH news here). For more on Ledgowan, check out land activist Andy Wightman's blog Land Matters.
In response to all this a mass walk is being planned for 30th November, St Andrews Day. The intention of the walk is both to register concerns about the access situation, and more generallly to 'inspect' the estate to see what land managers have been up to.
'That there is an absolute right of access enshrined in Scots Law is unarguable' said the originator of the protest, Gerry Loose, on Land Matters.
'That the Estate Managers and Title Holders have the best interests of the people of Scotland at heart, and that the Managers and Title Holders respect their duties to conform to the Planning Regulations of their local authority may be determined by this Mass Walk.'
It sounds as if the protest will be only loosely organised [sorry, Ed.]
'I urge you all ...to be present on the day, in informal groups, as and when you can arrive, spending as much or as little time as you have and inspect the condition of Ledgowan Estate, touching on the two points above; and then make your findings public' said Loose.
Loch Gowan from Moruisg. Image copyright: Richard Webb. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
In the light of events such as the confrontations at Ledgowan the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and Ramblers Scotland have issued a joint press release advising climbers and walkers what to do if met with threats or intimidation
Andrea Partridge, Access Officer for the MCofS, said:
'If anyone feels they have been intimidated or threatened while exercising their statutory rights of access, they should report the incident immediately to the police by calling 101.'
'They should make a note of the time and location of the incident, individual’s names if appropriate, and vehicle registration numbers.'
'Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, people have a right of access to most land and inland water in Scotland, so long as they act responsibly as detailed in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.'
'Landowners should respect these access rights when managing their land or water and act reasonably when asking people to avoid land management operations. They are also expected to cooperate with their local authority and other bodies to help integrate access and land management.'
'By far the majority of landowners in Scotland welcome access on their land and respect the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the law. However, unfortunately, there are a few who are not so welcoming hence the advice to report incidents to the police.'
Her comments were backed by Helen Todd, Campaigns and Policy Manager for Ramblers Scotland, who said:
'Our rights of public access are world-renowned.'
'Many walkers feel passionate about protecting their right to roam but they should nevertheless remain calm if faced with an aggressive land manager who is trying to prevent them walking on their land.'
'Walkers can choose to continue on their route or take account of any reasonable advice on an alternative, but they should report any intimidation to the police in the first instance, and also to the Ramblers or MCofS.'
Not all access problems require police involvement, say the two bodies. Less controntational problems should be reported to the Local Access Officer, who will be contactable through the relevant local authority or national park authority.