Hillwalkers out of step with landowner over wild animals

WALKERS and mountaineers could deal a blow to a Highland landowner's plans to keep wild boar and elk on his land.

Councillors will be asked next week to renew a licence for 17 wild boar and two European elk held in enclosures at the Alladale Estate in Sutherland.

A previous licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was granted in 2007, but Highland Council's access officer Matt Dent has lodged an objection on the grounds it would be contrary to the Land Reform Act 2003, which established a right to roam.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mr Dent received a complaint from a hillwalker who tried to descend from the surrounding hills and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCoS) has also raised doubts over access.

Despite the concerns, Chris Ratter, the council's area environmental health manager, recommends the licence is granted.

However, it has highlighted growing unrest at plans for Alladale, where estate owner Paul Lister is creating a wilderness reserve. He announced recently he is to apply for a zoo licence to also keep eight European wildcats and three European wolves.

The application to renew the wild animals licence will be discussed on Monday by the council's Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross licensing committee.

Mr Ratter said the Land Reform Act places a duty on every landowner not to cause "unreasonable interference" with people exercising access rights. He said: "

Due to the large size and position of the enclosure, the granting of a licence may conflict with the access expectations of walkers in the area and be contrary to the access rights conveyed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003."

Mr Ratter said the council may exempt land from access rights but so far has not exercised this power and deems the estate to be within the remit of land to which the public have access.

He said a Scottish Outdoor Access Code was produced by Scottish Natural Heritage but neither this nor the Land Reform Act directly addresses the conflict between the requirements of access rights and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.

He added: "Despite the concerns of the access officer, I would recommend that the licence be granted."

The estate announced last month that it intends to apply for a zoo licence in the early part of this year. It plans to import four wolf pups from Romania this summer and hopes they will be studied by schoolchildren as part of its programme to teach youngsters more about the environment.

Hugh Fullerton-Smith, the reserve's manager, said the enclosures will cover 575 acres of Alladale's 23,000 acres so there will be few limitations on access.

But Ramblers Scotland said it planned to oppose the zoo licence application as it would prevent people exercising their statutory rights of access over a large area of land.

The organisation said that the existing high enclosure with electrified wires makes it near-impossible to cross the land.

The MCoS, which represents 10,000 members, said it would also be making representations to the local authority.

Hebe Carus, the society's access and conservation officer, said: "It's an important mountaineering area, as the ridge the enclosures are on gives access to a Corbett and some very good ground for hillwalkers."