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You may well be forgiven for thinking that, by the big issue, I mean the FMD crisis. Much more important, however, is the draft access legislation out for consultation at the moment, and the last few weeks have highlighted just how important it is. A significant number of landowners and farmers either still do not want us on their land or would like to control our activities in some way. Writing recently on the rhb egroup, Richard Webb, a hillgoer from farming stock, said: "... they are going to try and rewrite the rules after this". He is right. His time-scale is a bit out, though - they have already been trying and some of it is in the draft legislation.
Here's a wee sample. Access rights are not exercisable over royal estates. What - no Coyles of Muick, no Lochnagar? There is no right to walk over crops. Sounds sensible, doesn't it - until you find out that some farmers are lobbying to have grass included as a crop. Think about it. There is a lot of grass about - ask any sheep. More worrying still is the section which allows landowners to suspend access rights. It appears to give them the perfect excuse to close land just by saying that "management operations" are taking place. And, in the light of current events, it would not surprise me if they are trying to get something similarly vague but sweeping included for "disease control", too. Local authorities are supposed to monitor this sort of thing ...
Scary stuff. But how did we get into this mess? It had all started so promisingly. An access forum, made up of the many interests involved, agreed to a right of responsible access to all land and inland water for informal recreation and passage along with an access code which explained everyone's rights and obligations in detail. Then some landowners, despite having agreed to this, started lobbying privately. Also, the NFU withdrew from the forum, unhappy with parts of it. The result is a watered down, undemocratic version of the original that will leave us worse off than we are now. But why was private lobbying listened to and acted on? What happened to the promised independent parliament free of cronyism?
What can we do? Get those pens writing and keyboards clicking. The past few weeks have proven many things - that responsibility is something we understand, that the tourist industry needs us, that farmers are no longer the economic big wheels they would have us believe. Like the landowners, we must have our say and comment on the legislation. The more of us who do this, the more likely they are to listen. Once the legislation is passed we will have to live with it, so it has to be worth spending time now getting it right. More information is available from the MCofS: http://www.mountaineering-scotland.org.uk/. We have until 30 June to comment on the draft bill. The address is: Andrew Taylor, Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Dept, Land Reform Branch, Room 106, Pentland House, 47 Robb's Loan, Edinburgh, EH14 1TY.
Ed. - The draft bill would also allow councils to close areas due to "extreme weather"... More positively, here are a few quotes from the mid-May Scottish Executive guidelines for the Provisionally Free Area (north of Forth/Clyde at present):
"The Scottish Executive wishes to make it clear that any non-official closure signs (those not placed by Local Authorities under the powers given to them) are unhelpful. They increase the chances that official signs will be ignored thus significantly increasing the real risks for farmers in the At Risk and Infected Areas. They produce a degree of confusion among the general public bringing the entire system for managing public access, throughout the country, into disrepute."
"All unofficial signs should therefore be removed forthwith."
"There is no evidence that a walker or rambler has ever spread foot and mouth disease."
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