News Roundup

Shieldaig Hydro Scheme Update

The latest information on the planning application from Highland Light and Power for a hydro-electric scheme in the Shieldaig-Slattadale Forest suggests that HLP will submit its proposals and a recently completed Environmental Impact Assessment during the last week of March.. There will then be a 28-day period of public consultation, during which HLP will stage an exhibition locally. HP is believed to have improved the scheme and may well offer some planning gains in the shape of new or improved footpaths in the area. The scheme would affect four lochs in the Wester Ross National Scenic Area.

The local action group have a website with details of the scheme at while Highland Light and Power can be found at Information can also be found in back issues of Mountain Views.

North Harris Estate Agreement

An agreement has been reached for the sale of the 55,000 acre North Harris Estate to the community-led North Harris Trust, in which the John Muir Trust is a partner. The Estate contains An Cliseam (The Clisham), the highest mountain in the Western Isles, and the rock peak Sron Ulladail. It is described by JMT as "one of the remotest and finest areas of wild land in the United Kingdom". It includes a number of national and international designations, 34,956 acres of the western part being designated SSSI, SPA and candidate SAC. The Estate is also part of the South Lewis, Harris and North Uist National Scenic Area. The North Harris Trust has launched an appeal for £100,000 towards the purchase. Funding has already been obtained from the Scottish Land Fund, the Community Land Unit of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, The John Muir Trust and Western Isles Council. An agreement has also been reached with industrialist Ian Scarr-Hall for him to purchase Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, the surrounding 600 acres and the estate fishings. This arrangement was a key component of the deal which allowed the local community to bring off the biggest community buy-out so far in terms of land area. The North Harris Estate has been owned since 1994 by Jonathan Bulmer of the cider family.

Mansion Sale to Test Land Reform Act?

The planned sale of an 18th century mansion in Midlothian may become the first test case for the access provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Middleton Hall, 14 miles south of Edinburgh, comes with a 113 acre estate crossed by a network of paths which, up till 1995, had been used for public recreation and one of which was claimed to be a public right of way. A change in ownership in that year resulted in gates, which had been open for years, being strengthened and padlocked. Attempts to reassert public rights resulted in altercations with the owners which sometimes led to police intervention.

Middleton Hall has now been put on the market with an asking price in excess of £2.25 million and the promise of secure and exclusive privacy throughout the estate. Concerned about the implications, Dave Morris and Ian McCall of the Ramblers' Association recently visited the site. On being refused entry at the main gate, they climbed a wall and were able to explore the grounds. They concluded that statutory right of access should apply to some 80 acres of the estate. They were impressed by the "superb scenery" they encountered. Dave Morris commented "It is outrageous that the owners of Middleton Hall think they have exclusive access to over 100 acres of garden. They are asking for more than the royal family at Balmoral."

The Ramblers' Association will expect Midlothian Council to exercise the powers it will gain next year under the Land Reform Act to restore access to the grounds of Middleton Hall, keeping gates open and knocking down walls if necessary. Local MSP Rhona Brankin has also promised to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament. In the meantime, prospective buyers should bear in mind that the promise of secure and exclusive privacy conflicts with the new access legislation.

Highland Estates - A Toy for the Rich?

Sporting Estates and Recreational Land Use comes to this conclusion. It is the report of a recent study by academics at the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Dr Peter Higgins and Dr Douglas Macmillan found that, while there are a few profitable estates and more commercial activity than ten years ago, the majority of landowners regard their estate as primarily a place for family and friends and for sporting activities. 22% percent of owners encouraged public access and 66% tolerated it but 64% opposed mountain biking, 49% were against canoeing, 40% against cross-country skiing and 36% opposed camping. Andy Wightman, who co-researched the report, commented. "It is important to understand that sporting estates are still owned in the main in order to provide for the consumption of leisure by their owners. In this sense they are no different from other expensive hobbies such as yachting. Deficits should thus be regarded not as trading losses but as the costs of maintaining the infrastructure of a leisure asset."

Parliamentary Questions on Access

In response to recent questions on Access issues in the Scottish Parliament, Deputy Environment Minister Allan Wilson confirmed that landowner liability had not increased as a result of the Land Reform Act. Landowners have the same duty of reasonable care in relation to visitors to their land as they had before. He also confirmed that local authorities have the power to protect and keep open access routes and that the Scottish Executive has provided and will continue to provide resources to enable local authorities to extend the core path networks.

Will Campbell, 14 March, 2003

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