The Angry Corrie 19: Jul-Sep 1994
And they call it democracy...
Quite rightly, there is growing concern over the imminent introduction of the government's Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Of particular relevance to outdoor enthusiasts are Clauses 45-61, which, whilst primarily geared around imposing restraints on open-air festivals, raves and New Age activity generally, are also seen by many as typically devious back-door favourings of landowners over and against walkers, climbers, cyclists and the like.
Until recently, there had been little, if any, attempt either to organise or to educate people about all this. But an anti-Bill candidate stood in the Monklands East byelection, and a common interest alliance has now formed, based in Edinburgh. Initially this alliance grew out of the excellent Scotsland Project - a broad-based educative group centred in the Adult Learning Project. ALP organised a public meeting in May, which an impressive 70-odd folk, TAC included, attended. A second, then a third meeting followed, with more planned. Perhaps not since the early days of the anti-Poll Tax campaign has such a diverse and motivated coming-together occurred: attendees included hunt sabs, anglers, ravers, the Scottish Gypsy Travellers Association, New Agers, anti-militarists, the Rights of Way Soc, Earth First (who campaign under the slogan "Forgive us our Trespasses"!), Save the Children, the SNP and others. The Scottish Landowners Federation and the Police Federation were both invited, but neither attended - although the polis did at least have the decency to reply.
The danger with meetings such as these is of course their sheer size and diversity: a lot more gets said than is listened to. But consensus is most certainly there, in the concept of an umbrella alliance, spreading information as it arises.
The first meeting asked participants to list their concerns over the Bill, which resulted in these main four:
This led on to more detailed objections and concerns. The Bill
In contrast to this, the population in general is surely enthusiastic to defend human and public rights, whereas this legislation actively works against such rights and in favour of controlling interests.
Quite where the group goes from here isn't clear, but certainly high on the agenda is the need to further inform and educate people about this latest erosion of their civil liberties. There has so far been a worrying under-representation of walkers and climbers, despite the fact that it will soon be technically illegal for even small groups of walkers to set off up the hill without clearance. And once something is technically illegal, it's only a matter of time, once the occasion arises, before someone is actually brought to book. Already numerous walkers are being dissuaded from routes by deliberately misinformative signs which suggest sporting interests place the hill out of bounds for whole chunks of the year. The old consensus between responsible hillgoers and stalking interests is rapidly being eroded - and not through irresponsible hillwalking, no matter what the Landowners Federation might say. The forthcoming Bill (likely to be in place late July) is a further flagrant misuse of power by them that have it, and the biggest threat to what we are about for many a long day. TAC urges all hillgoers to either organise locally about this, or, preferably, to link into the main alliance. For more details, contact Stan Reeves, Alison Walker or anyone at the ALP, 184 Dalry Rd, Edinburgh EH11 2EP, 031-337-5442.
Late news - there is also a public meeting of the Glasgow Network against the Criminal Justice Bill, 7-9pm, Larkfield Centre, Govanhill, 6th August.
The mainstream press has recently devoted a fair few column centimetres to the purchase of the Glenfeshie Estate, and here again are profound worries about what might now happen. To briefly sketch in the details, the original two potential purchasers were an RSPB / John Muir Trust consortium, and the Laird of Legoland from Denmark - an obvious case of public versus private. The asking price was high - bids under £4m unlikely to succeed, which ruled out TAC as a contender - but the RSPB/JMT were hopeful of substantial government support via SNH and/or the National Heritage Memorial Fund (goodness knows what they are for if not this). The readies might well have been forthcoming, had there not appeared, suddenly, out of the wide blue Plain of Albion, the mysterious Will Woodlands Trust. The RSPB/JMT immediately entered into futile negotiations. (Futile and confusing, since everyone concerned had surnames beginning with H - John Hunt for the RSPB, Nigel Hawkins JMT, Henry Hoare, Angela Hobbins and Hugh Henshaw WWT.) The bidding was now too hot for the established conservers to handle, such that by late June the WWT had picked up the estate for the anticipated £4m-plus figure.
All this sounds not too bad, and indeed may not be - time will tell. But it does seem strange that a conservation body with no track record apart from one farm in Dorset can sweep to victory against the proven abilities of the RSPB and JMT. Reading between the lines of comments by concerned bodies, the fear is obvious: the WWT may well be a landowners' front rather than a genuine conservation body. Certainly the initial pronouncement that the estate will continue to be run along sporting lines hardly sits easily alongside the need to drastically reduce deer numbers and re-establish woodland. Maybe in twenty years' time the Feshie hills will be healthily cloaked in sturdy young pines. Maybe not. Read TAC139 to find out.
Another worry has been the plan to expand the Nevisrange ski complex into Coire Dubh, most northerly of the eastern corries of Aonach Mor. Laying the conservation argument aside, more skiing would clearly help fill the Fort William coffers provided hard winters continue. But concerns have been expressed that the plans are fundamentally unsafe: with so much snow on these slopes, the avalanche danger will be potentially, and persistently, high. Plus the "creep" of big snow banks may well eventually topple the gantries themselves. There have also been rumours of plans to fence off the area and prevent access by other hillusers, but these appear to be unfounded. What is known is that nothing will happen just yet: planning permission was granted in late May, but British Alcan have objected and the burn flowing out of the corrie must now have a £0.25m filter. So next time you're in the Alcan canteen, don't ask for filter coffee - it'll cost a bomb.
Walker-unfriendly fences have, however, gone up on the Wiltshire-owned estate north of Braemore Junction. Here the old path leading up past the Home Loch and onto Beinn Enaiglair has been bulldozed, with high, barbed-wire gates and fences barring access. A family group was also recently warned off by some estate lackey. But the Scottish Landowners Federation are looking for "Access without Acrimony" remember, not the other way around...
Nor can we have the hills tidied of litter. Many of you will have taken part in the JMT's worthy Summit Sweep at the start of July - an attempt to clean up as many as possible of Britain's 1551 Marilyns. Full details on this next issue, but organiser Alan Blanco received a phonecall from Radio Five Live the day before, so off he and a reporter went into the Kilpatricks to chat whilst doing a bit of sweeping. They set off up the track past Wester Cochno towards Greenside Reservoir (OS64, NS491741-ish), only to be confronted by a standard-issue bellowing landowner. On being ordered off, Blanco pointed out that they were actually helping by tidying his land - to which the loudmouth responded that his land was already tidy, despite empirical, plastic-bottle-shaped evidence to the contrary. So TAC's "Walk of the Month", thoroughly recommended to any west-of-Scotland-based walkers (note the plural - there's safety in numbers) is the traipse all the way up Cochno Hill or Duncolm past said gentleman's domicile.