sportScotland, formally known as the Scottish Sports Council concern themselves with increasing involvement in sport. They now also distribute National Lottery funds and part-fund the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. They recently consulted on the way forward for countryside sport in a paper entitled Out there. This came to my attention shortly before the end of the consultation period and included some proposals with implications for North East mountains. I put in a personal response as there was insufficient time to discuss it with the NEMT General Council.
I generally supported the paper which was fairly general. As always final judgement would only be possible when the fine detail is known. An important underlying concept that did not come out in the paper is the recognition that many recreational users of the Scottish hills have no affiliation to any organisation, club or national body. Their continued enjoyment is none the less important for that. I encouraged sportScotland, as a representative body, to try to act on their behalf!
The paper tackles the definition of wild land, but fails to acknowledge recent work by the National Trust for Scotland, the John Muir Trust, the Scottish Wild Land Group and Scottish Natural Heritage. I indicated the subjective and personal nature of people's experiences and the great care that is required when new or improved facilities are introduced to "enhance" the experience.
I supported their approach on multi/shared use of paths which favours provision for a full range of sports in a local area, minimising problems associated with shared routes.
I feel that the paper misinterpreted some recent legislation, in particular the stated aims of Scottish National Parks, the process leading to National Park designation, consultation on National Park Plans, the roles of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and of the Local Access Forums. This may have been through lack of space or understanding but might have been "testing the limits". I pointed out my understanding of these matters.
They examined the place of sport in National Parks. Most was good, but I fundamentally
disagreed with two points -
"there is enough space in national parks to accommodate a range of sport and other interests without having to significantly restrict or prevent"
I indicated that land in Scotland is a finite resource and that great care is needed to ensure that it is managed appropriately. Restrictions may be needed from time to time but should be of a minimum duration and extent. Decisions about the appropriateness of activities should be made by the Park Authority working with the land owner(s). These need to tread the fine line between National and Local interests. It would be wrong for any party to have unlimited rights.
They correctly highlighted the need for different management in different parts of a park. I stated the NEMT recommendation that formal "zones" be established, with carefully drawn boundaries.
"Noise is not an alien feature of the countryside - traffic, timber felling, agricultural machinery, game sport, quarrying and mining; aircraft and MOD activity are all forms of noise familiar in the countryside."
I indicated that noise is neither universally present nor acceptable. When present, it will detract from the quality of the place. Again it is important that acceptable management reflects the local characteristics - what is acceptable close to a road or settlement may not be acceptable high on a mountain. Noise is an insidious pollutant that we are almost powerless to stop.
Hopefully the response was supportive of the promotion of outdoor sport while providing a reasonable view of the environment in which it takes place. Like everything else that happens in the mountains, sport needs to be sustainable.
Donald Thomas, September 2005
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