Land access is a flexible friend but must be regulated

The time is now ripe for a review of Scottish access legislation which has been in place since 2003, according to NFU Scotland.

Outdoor pursuits can boost the rural economy, but NFU Scotland wants local authorities to help when problems arise. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Speaking after discussions at the Scottish Parliament with a number of organisations, the union said that the recently formed Scottish Land Commission should undertake a review of the current access legislation – and the accompanying Scottish outdoor access code – within its first strategic plan.

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The union’s policy manager, Gemma Cooper, said that for the most part, farmers recognised the important role that outdoor access played in bringing money into the rural economy, and public access was now broadly accepted as part of daily farming life.

But she said that while many of the individuals who took access across the country’s hills and fields did so responsibly, this was not always the case, adding that “irresponsible access can cause very real difficulties”.

Irresponsible access took many forms, she claimed, with the most commonly reported issues being livestock worrying, damage to standing crops, gates left open and the cumulative impacts of access takers.

“It should be remembered that land managers are making a living from the countryside and access taking can cause practical difficulties which can have financial ramifications,” said Cooper.

She said that there should be a statutory requirement on all local authorities to maintain full-time access officers, to ensure that there was someone able to assist both landowners and the public where issues around access arose.

“Funding should be available and ring-fenced for the maintenance of the path network, and a requirement placed on local authorities to implement this maintenance to ensure that paths are kept to a suitable standard for access takers. This will protect both access takers and land managers from potential litigation,” she added.

The union has welcomed moves taken by several local councils – including East and West Lothian and the City of Edinburgh – to ban the release of sky lanterns.

“Although sky lanterns are seemingly innocent, they can cause untold damage as there is no control over where these burning structures of paper, metal and wood decide to land” said union vice-president, Martin Kennedy.

He said there had been many reports of fires started by lanterns and harm to the health of livestock when lanterns which landed in farmers’ fields had been eaten by stock.