Wednesday, February 9th saw the dawn of a new era for public access to the Scottish countryside. On that date, the access provisions contained in Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 came into effect. Right of access to the Scottish countryside is now guaranteed by law and establishes a solid legal basis for the traditional rights of access long enjoyed by the Scottish people and by our visitors. Access to most land and water for the purposes of recreation, education and for going from place to place is now a legal right which can only be forfeited if an access-taker behaves irresponsibly. Guidance to recreational users and land managers on the new rights and responsibilities is contained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which was approved by the Scottish Parliament last summer after extensive public consultation. A structure of local access forums has also been put in place to bring together key interests and assist in the resolution of disputes. (see article elsewhere in this issue.)
Outdoor recreation organisations have welcomed the coming into effect of the statutory right of access. Mountaineering Council of Scotland President John Mackenzie said “It really does make me believe that Scotland now has the best access system in Europe…” MCofS Access and Conservation Officer, Mike Dales added: “The introduction of these statutory rights is not about granting a licence to misbehave, nor is it about resolving problems on day one; it is about introducing a modern access system that works, is easy to understand and in fifty years time should have grown to be a proud and cherished tradition.” Ramblers’ Association Scotland Chairman, Alison Mitchell commented “This legislation and its accompanying Scottish Outdoor Access Code gives Scotland a framework for access which is among the best in Europe. It secures our traditional rights and freedoms, and provides a modern system for protecting paths and developing new path networks.”
There have also been positive responses amongst those who make their living from the countryside. The Scottish Rural Property and Business Association has produced ‘Managing Access: Guidance for Owners and Managers of Land’ with the support of Scottish Natural Heritage and the Paths for All Partnership. The publication advises land managers on the new code and suggests ways to integrate access with other land uses. The Scottish Estates Business Group, in association with SNH, the Ramblers’ Association Scotland, the MCofS and TGO Magazine, has developed a wallet-sized card containing information about the Code and useful contact numbers. The card is being widely distributed throughout Scotland. SEBG Chairman Lord Seafield, whose family owns the Seafield and Strathspey Estates, commented: “We’re delighted to be able to support the Scottish Outdoor Access Code by producing and distributing this handy card. Like many estates, we have always had an open access policy. Now that access rights are enshrined in law we hope people will embrace the spirit of the access code and herald a new era for the countryside.”
SNH, which has the responsibility of producing, publicising and, if necessary, revising the Access Code, has produced a summary leaflet which will be widely available and commissioned a TV advert to make people aware of the new rights and associated responsibilities. Copies of the full Code can be obtained by phoning SNH on 01738 458545 or emailing email@example.com Information is also available from the website: www.outdooraccess-scotland.com
Will Campbell, 3rd March, 2005
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