Walkers attack night curfew bill

CLIMBERS and hill walkers are calling on MSPs to reject plans which could impose a darkness curfew on Scotland’s hills which, they claim, would lead to more accidents.

The Scottish Parliament will debate the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill tomorrow and Thursday when it is expected to confirm a statutory right of access to the countryside for recreational activities.

However, Ross Finnie, the environment and rural development minister, is proposing an amendment which could give powers to local authorities to restrict access during the "hours of darkness".

But the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) claims the move would result in more accidents as walkers and climbers would be under threat to travel quickly, and take unnecessary risks in a rush to get off the hills before dark.

The MCofS, which has a membership of about 2,000 walkers, climbers, mountaineers and cross-country skiers from 135 clubs across Scotland, believes that a darkness curfew in the mountains would be "unenforceable, derided and largely ignored".

It also claims a ban on night access would infringe human rights and "lead to the escalation of the kinds of conflict which this legislation is trying to resolve".

Pete Hill, the MCofS president, said: "If a mountaineer has an accident while trying to rush off the hill before dark, then the Executive should consider itself responsible for the consequences.

"The thought of having to run to the mountain in winter, climb quickly without a rope, and then run out again, all because there is a darkness curfew and you therefore have to cram everything into eight hours of daylight, is simply ridiculous."

John Mackenzie, the Earl of Cromarty, who is the council’s vice president, said: "Sunset and sunrise will be words stolen from our vocabulary.

"Imagine a country where you are not allowed to be on certain hills to witness sunrise, sunset, meteor showers and the shortest night of the year.

"That is not the Scotland I grew up in, and it must not be the Scotland that future generations have to put up with."

Mike Dales, the MCofS’s access and conservation officer, added: "What are we meant to do when there’s a darkness curfew; stay in our tents and bothies all night and not go out for a pee until dawn?

"The thought of these curfews would be laughable if it was written anywhere else, but contained in an amendment from a government minister makes you realise how out of touch he is with reality."

The Executive has been urged by some landowners and the Game Conservancy Trust to restrict night-time access to cut down on the possibility of poaching, wildlife crime and the disturbance of animals.

In a letter to Mr Finnie, Ian McCall, the trust’s director in Scotland, said he is concerned about 24-hour access: "Wildlife must be allowed to settle at night, including nocturnal species.

"The ability of wardens, rangers and gamekeepers to effectively carry out their night-time tasks, such as pest and predator control, will be compromised, while opportunities to poach game, deer and fish and to rustle livestock will increase.

"Twenty-four-hour access invites an increase in wildlife crime such as illegal egg collecting and will make detection and prosecution of the culprits, already difficulty, virtually impossible."

Richard Cooke, of the Association of Deer Management Groups, said walkers will continue to use the countryside before dawn and after dusk largely without problems.

But he also said that, if people can roam when they like as a right without being able to be challenged, this could pose a threat to householders, while it could also upset the movement of deer on hills.

John Donohoe, the former MCofS president, dismissed claims that it would increase poaching: "There would still be walkers up there anyway, and surely the best deterrent against poachers is actually to have people around.

"One must query why land managers are so anxious to keep law-abiding people out of the Scottish countryside.

"What do they possibly have to fear?"

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