IRRESPONSIBLE ACCESS

Dave Windle

Last summer saw a huge increase in the numbers of people visiting the countryside. In the Cairngorms, some areas saw an increase of over 40% in the number of visitors as people decided to dispense with the Mediterranean and holiday at home. It wasnít helped by irrational decisions such as the operators of the Glenmore forest car park deciding to stay shut just when their facilities were most needed.

© Nick Kempe, Parkswatchscotland

While the increase in numbers was welcome news for the beleaguered tourist industry, it led to problems due to thoughtless behaviour, mainly concerning three issues:

The media was full of horror pictures such as rubbish strewn across the countryside, abandoned campsites and thoughtlessly parked cars blocking farmersí access. Indeed, the people living locally have my total sympathy.

Some councillors jumped onto the bandwagon, calling for bans on wild camping, in the name of protecting the environment. These flag-waving prohibitionists generated a lot of publicity at the time. Like most given to knee jerk reactions, they missed the point. Wild camping is not about stopping at the roadside with a case of beer. Itís about walking or biking a long way from the road to camp in unspoilt countryside. People prepared to carry camping gear into wild and remote areas typically care enough about these areas to leave them in good condition.

Of course, the problem of rubbish is not just down to visitors. We have all seen fly-tipping in the countryside, presumably due to locals.

Fortunately, the mainstream media and most politicians accepted that better facilities and infrastructure were needed rather than restrictions. Improved public information could help to reduce ignorance and irresponsible behaviour. Mountaineering Scotland provided a briefing paper for an MSP debate on 9th September, sponsored by Murdo Fraser. At the end of this debate, no MSP supported increasing legal restrictions.

Mountaineering Scotland have posted a position statement, which presents a reasoned argument. So far, in the Cairngorms, the Park Authority have been working to improve facilities for this summerís influx of visitors, not drawing up bye-laws and bans. I hope that this continues.

An increase in people enjoying the facilities in the Park is positive. The more people that care about it, the better. Our world-leading access rights are based on responsible access, not restrictions based on thoughtless behaviour.

Some landowners are using this as an excuse to erode our access rights. If any of you come across examples of this, please let us know at nemt.info@gmail.com. We cannot allow Covid to become an excuse for our access rights to be eroded by landowners anxious to take us back to Victorian times.


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