Scottish bothies face closure after repeat vandalism and arson attacks

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TWO mountain bothies used by hillwalkers face closure because of repeated vandal attacks over the past two years.

• Repeat attacks on the Backhill of Bush bothy in the Galloway Forest Park has prompted the Forestry Commission to consult on its future

Needles used by drug users, beer cans and spirit bottles are regularly found at the shelters in Galloway Forest Park.

Furniture has been burned as firewood, roof beams removed, doors and windows damaged and nearby trees felled at the Backhill of Bush and Shiel of Castlemaddy bothies.

Now the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), a charity that manages the buildings using donations from the public, has said it can no longer cope with the strain of looking after them.

Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), which owns the bothies, is now consulting on whether to close them.

The Backhill of Bush bothy was where the idea of the MBA was first dreamed up by a group of walkers in 1964.

FCS said that, because of its "historical value", it will manage the bothy "until further notice".

However, it said it doubted the importance of the other building, the Shiel of Castlemaddy, and "whether it is a viable resource to keep open".

Both are currently being kept in use for walkers while the consultation takes place.

MBA spokesman Neil Stewart emphasised that it was very rare for vandalism to occur at bothies. He said the problems started after tracks were built near the two buildings, which allowed bikers and motorists to access them.

"When we took over managing them they were in the wilderness but since then the Forestry Commission has planted a forest and the forest roads go along with that, so they are now quite easy to get to," he said.

"We didn't want to close the bothies but the problem has been that all our people are volunteers and it's disheartening to tidy it up and repair it and then find the same thing again.

"We are finding it difficult to find volunteers to look after these two bothies."

He said the problems had been going on for about two years. No-one has yet been caught vandalising the buildings.

Rob Soutar of Forestry Commission Scotland said: "We have been working with the MBA and the police over a number of years to try to address the issues of misuse at both these bothies.

"Unfortunately, we are now at a position where we need to think hard about the future use of the two bothies and we need to have input from hillwalkers and the public on a practical way forward."

MBA chairman John Arnott added that it had been a "reluctant" decision.

"Our volunteers in the south of Scotland have worked long and hard over a number of years, repairing damage and maintaining the bothies as a safe place for people to visit, but we have now reluctantly decided, after consultation with the Forestry Commission and other local interests, to relinquish our interest in these two bothies."

Ramblers Scotland director Dave Morris said the behaviour of the vandals was "deplorable" and he added that he had sympathy for the decision by the MBA. However, he said he hoped Forestry Commission Scotland would find a way to keep them open.

"In a sense it's a reflection of some of the wider problems in society at the moment and it seems a pity saying it will deal with it by closing the bothies," he said.

"I hope the Forestry Commission will examine all the options possible because they aren't just a private landlord, they are a public body that must promote outdoor activities."

The MBA looks after about 100 bothies across the UK.

The FCS consultation is open until 18 March.

To express views on the future use of Backhill of Bush and Shiel of Castlemaddy bothies, visit the website: www.forestry.gov.uk/gallowaybothies