Last week a Hilltalk thread highlighted an access issue in Glen Lyon. Today the MCofS has called on the Scottish Government to take action on the estate concerned, which they say is ignoring Scotland’s access laws. They're worried that inaction could set a precedent that might lead to access issues for climbers and walkers elsewhere too.
For several years walkers in Perthshire’s Glen Lyon have faced locked gates, intimidating signs and abusive behaviour when venturing onto the North Chesthill Estate, Inverar, say the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS). Reports of such problems have been made over a number of years to the access officer for Perth and Kinross Council, but the issue has still not been resolved.
Besides being a much-loved beauty spot the glen is also home to a popular circuit of the four Munros of the Carn Mairg group – the route described in this UKHillwalking Route Card. But at the starting point for the walk a gate is regularly locked and signs imply that access is forbidden.
'[I] Went for a saunter round the 4 Glen Lyon munros yesterday' posted forum user Neil Pratt on Hilltalk, December 11, 'and found that Chesthill are up to their usual tricks, sticking up signs to deter people from heading onto the hills in the area.'
Neil encountered three signs at Invervar that appeared to be banning access at the normal start point to the popular Munro walk, he tells us today:
'[One] on the noticeboard in the car park by the telephone box; one on the fencing which has been erected to bar access to the track which was directly opposite the phone box up the side of an old building; [and a third] on a metal post at the entrance to the alternative track which has been created about 50m west of the telephone box on the north side of the road. '
'All of them look to be fixed permanently, rather than being positioned for the day.'
'Next to the sign in the car park noticeboard is another list of estate requirements, including one which prohibits wild camping in the area. The general vibe of the signage is to deter people from taking access. My walking buddy for the day was an English visitor to Scotland and, in the 20 minutes she'd been there before I arrived, had reached the conclusion that access was prohibited and we'd have to go somewhere else.'
He reported this to the Perth & Kinross Access Officer last week.
So why is it a problem?
Under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, the responsibilities of stalkers and land managers include the need to 'be aware of where recreational use is likely, such as along paths, popular routes and ridge lines.' Estates should 'tell people about where stalking is taking place by giving on-the-day information on stalking and alternative routes.'
According to the law, land managers can't just erect permanent signs to deter visitors.
Neil Pratt's experience is not unusual here, and the MCofS has now appealed to Perthshire North MSP John Swinney after concluding that the local council has given up on the problem.
In his letter to John Swinney, David Gibson, Chief Officer for the MCofS, says:
'The North Chesthill Estate has been restricting the statutory right of access for many years. '
'There has been a considerable amount of time spent by several organisations in endeavouring to solve the issue of locked gates, intimidatory signs and abusive behaviour, but this still continues. '
'Perth and Kinross Council, the Perth and Kinross Local Access Forum, Ramblers Scotland and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland have all been involved in discussions with the owner but he still continues to lock gates and erect signs stating "Deer management in progress – please walk elsewhere”. The locked gates and signs effectively close the whole estate to access.'
David Gibson continued:
'There have recently been a number of complaints made to Perth and Kinross Council about the removal of access rights but the authority’s response has been that their powers to pursue the matter any further are limited.'
'This response means that this particular individual is breaking the law and being allowed to do it. How many other landowners might follow suit? Scotland’s world class access legislation is being undermined and devalued, and the local authority (which has powers in the legislation to address this) appears to have given up.'
Previous communication with Perth and Kinross Council has left the MCofS with the impression, they say, that the Council considers too much time has been spent on the matter and that there is no more they can do to resolve it.
'In effect, the landowner is being allowed to prohibit access and responsible walkers are being denied their statutory rights' said Gibson.
'Our members and other hill walkers are becoming increasingly frustrated by this blatant flouting of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.'
And he reminded Mr Swinney, who is also Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth in the Scottish Government, that in 2009 alone the value to the Scottish economy from walking tourism was estimated to be £533 million per year.