SCOTLAND’S leading mountaineering organisation has stepped up its campaign against the owner of a Highland Perthshire estate who they claim is denying access to one of the country’s most popular hillwalking destinations.
The North Chesthill Estate in Glen Lyon is home to a popular circuit of four Munros, but the Mountaineering Council of Scotland claim estate owner Alastair Riddell has been blocking access to walkers for years.
They claim they have faced locked gates and intimidating signs when they have attempted to venture onto the land under the public’s legal right to roam.
Last month the council wrote to John Swinney, the local MSP and SNP Finance Minister, asking him to take action in view of what they claimed was “the lack of progress” achieved by Perth and Kinross Council in addressing the issue.
The Mountaineering Council today announced that they have established an online survey to gauge the extent of the problem and give the local authority “ammunition for any future action.”
A spokesman for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland said: “Long-running problems on the North Chesthill Estate have seen a steady stream of complaints from hill walkers who feel they have been obstructed from their legal right of responsible access.
“Besides being internationally renowned for its beauty, the glen is also home to a popular circuit of four Munros but at the most popular starting point for the walk a gate is regularly locked and signs imply that access is forbidden. “
He continued: “Perth and Kinross Council, which has the legal duty of enforcing access rights, has held discussions with the estate owner but so far failed to solve the problems faced by walkers, who have complained over a number of years about locked gates, intimidating and misleading signs.”
David Gibson, the organisation’s chief officer, claimed: “The North Chesthill Estate has been restricting the statutory right of access for many years. Perth and Kinross Council, the Perth and Kinross Outdoor Access Forum, Ramblers Scotland and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland have all been involved in discussions with the owner but he still continues to lock gates and erect signs stating ‘Deer management in progress – please walk elsewhere.’ The locked gates and signs effectively close the whole estate to access.
“In effect, the landowner is being allowed to prohibit access and responsible walkers are being denied their statutory rights.”
Mr Riddell said last month that there was a clear conflict of interest between the rights of the public to roam on his land and his ability to make a living from the estate. He said: “The estate has made every effort to accommodate walkers while endeavouring to operate a hill sheep and stalking business.
“Our location relatively close to the Central Belt of Scotland and the attraction of having four Munros on the estate means we get very high numbers of walkers each year.”
He added: “Attempting to find a balance which enables access in a way that also allows us to continue with our business interests is challenging, but we have always sought to comply with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in that respect.”