Here’s an interesting article on land reform and access by National columnist Lesley Riddoch, and my letter in response.
Lesley Riddoch makes some very good points about Scotland’s lagging in the fitness stakes despite Team GB’s medal haul. Of particular note was when she observed that Norway has 43 national parks to Scotland’s pitiful 2, but at present I’m not convinced that is entirely a bad thing. In my view our national parks should be part of a national strategy to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors while allowing them to exercise their access rights to the full. We only have to look to Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park (LLTNP) to see that is not the case.
In 2011 wild camping, a right enshrined in the Land Reform Act 2003, was banned on part of the eastern side of Loch Lomond. The national park pushed for this ban and spokesman Grant Moir stated at the time that they had no plans to extend the ban to other areas of the park. Fast forward five years and they have already broken that vow, having had legislation passed which will create a series of “Restricted Zones” where the access laws which Lesley acknowledged arrived around 50 years after progressive Norway’s, will be suspended and camping will be banned for the ordinary visitor, though notably these restrictions do not apply to the land-owners or their chums.
The West Highland Way, Scotland’s premier long distance footpath which attracts hikers from all over the world, has some 29 miles within the boundaries of the LLTNP and bizarrely around 19 miles of this will be in the Restricted Zones!
What we are seeing in LLTNP is the privatisation by stealth of a healthy and growing outdoors lifestyle, and if there’s anything more likely to deter ordinary people from accessing the outdoors it’s by pricing it out of their reach, and all under the threat of a £500 fine if you so much as camp where you shouldn’t.
In the 1920’s and 30’s many people from the industrial heartlands of Scotland, such as the iconic outdoorsman Tom Weir, would take to the hills of Loch Lomond and Arrochar, camping by loch-sides, sheltering in caves and under old army capes, trying to escape the horrendous conditions and grinding poverty of the cities. Almost 100 years on we haven’t progressed at all if we are about to allow those rights to be criminalised, sanitised and privatised. The LLTNP could be the jewel in the crown of Scottish access, where like in Norway, people are encouraged to visit, where they can be educated in good practice and where they can grow and flourish. If the Scottish Government wants Scotland to be a fitter, healthier and happier place it would be a good start by ensuring that our two existing national parks have at their very core the charge to protect and strengthen our access rights, and that they remain open and accessible to all. That would be a small start which would still leave us trailing behind Norway, but in my view theirs is a path worth following.