ONE of Scotland’s most senior gamekeepers has raised the controversial question as to whether some of Scotland’s mountains should be periodically closed to the public to preserve wildlife.
Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, claimed that some leading ecologists believed Scotland’s hills should be closed down to give the animals, flora and fauna time to recover from enthusiasts walking on the land.
Walking is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions with an estimated 230,000 people hiking up Scotland’s mountains every month, and around 100,000 walkers climbing Ben Nevis every year.
Mr Hogg raised the issue while addressing students at the University of Edinburgh about various approaches to managing land in Scotland. Writing in his blog, Mr Hogg said the students had been asked to explore different views on wild land, and ways of protecting it.
He said: “In the talk, we touched upon the sheer number of people accessing our Scottish hills and making it very difficult for the thing they were coming to experience – the wildlife – to co-exist. Should some of our mountains be closed down, periodically, to allow some recovery? Some leading ecologists believe so. Should some glens be restricted to organised vehicular access only to give our wildlife peace, as happens in South Africa?”
But last night his comments were met with dismay by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS), which said his words perpetuated “the historic divisions between those enjoying responsible access for recreational purposes and land managers”.
In a statement, the organisation said: “The Mountaineering Council of Scotland is pleased to work in partnership with many organisations involved in conservation, deer management, the management of wild land and land-owning representatives, for the benefit of all.
“Comments such as this, made by Alex Hogg, go against the spirit of co-operation that is now well established in Scotland and only seek to perpetuate the historic divisions between those enjoying responsible access for recreational purposes and land managers – an attitude that prevailed years ago. Scotland has moved on from this position and the MCofS would welcome further dialogue with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.”
Scottish National Heritage (SNH) also criticised Mr Hogg’s comments, saying they did not believe Scotland’s mountains should be shut to the public.
Fiona Cuninghame of SNH said: “We do not believe that our hills and mountains should be closed to walkers, most walkers adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
“Scotland’s hills are a big part of what makes our landscapes attractive to walkers from both home and abroad. Recent surveys do not show a significant increase in the numbers of walkers visiting Scotland’s hills.
“More than half (56 per cent) of hill walks by people living in Scotland include expenditure, with food and drink purchased on 43 per cent of trips and fuel purchased on 26 per cent of trips walks, which contributes to the local economy.”
A recent report produced by SNH estimated that the value to Scotland’s economy was £1.4 billion per year.