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Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 16 Feb 2015, 5:07pm
by Tinnishill
A new “Land Reform Bill” is coming up in front of the Scottish Parliament.

Most people on this forum will have heard reference to the Scottish Land Access laws; you are allowed free access for muscle powered travel anywhere on open hill, forest or water (including on such hill tracks as might be there). In order to reach that open country it is sometimes necessary to route through a farm's built up area or through standing crops, or through an area which has been closed for some farming, forestry or shooting operation. Confrontations occur, particularly between passers by and shooters or forestry workers. It is still legal to transit one of these otherwise closed areas on a Public Right of Way (ROW). In Scotland there is no differentiation between footpaths and bridleways; ROW covers any mode of muscle powered travel, though at some spots it might not be physically possible to cycle or ride a horse. In order to use a Scottish ROW legally you first need to know where the ROW is. There are about 16,000km of ROW in Scotland. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland there is a legal obligation on Ordnance Survey to publish ROW routes, but not in Scotland, where details are held in restricted Council archives.

Scots Law needs changing to require Ordnance Survey to publish these routes, but the Scottish Government do not yet plan to do this. The Land Reform Bill 2015 is the necessary parliamentary opportunity for this to happen. The Scottish Government are generally amenable to this sort of modernisation, but they need the Public to ask for it.

Why are ROW details "restricted" in Scotland and what is the relevant legislation ? In England, ROW have a legal description of “Defined”. In Scotland they are legally described as either “Confirmed” or “Claimed”. The difference is that while “Confirmed” have been upheld by a court, no one has ever queried the route of a “Claimed” ROW. The agents of the landowners insinuate that “Claimed” routes are not really ROW; this is not true, “Claimed” means that a route fulfills all the criteria to be a ROW and no one has ever legally disputed it. In England, Wales and N.I. local authorities have a legal duty to maintain and make available for the public (usually at a public library) a “definitive map” of ROW in their area. The “definitive maps” are kept up to date with local changes and passed to Ordnance Survey for publication. Since 1960 OS have had a legal duty to publish this information. In Scotland, ROW information is collated by the Scottish Right of Way Society who are paid by a Government department, Scottish Natural Heritage, to maintain a “National Catalogue of Rights of Way” (CROW). The planning departments of Scottish local authorities keep a local CROW. OS will not publish Scottish CROW information because they are not compelled to. In order to view a CROW, you can make an appointment to visit the Rights of Way Soc' office in Stirling, or a local planning office (who will probably charge for the privilege). You can see how practical this arrangement is to a traveler suddenly faced with some anonymous stranger in a waxed jacket blocking their way. There is also a Scottish Right of Way Society publication called “Scottish Hill Tracks”. It contains scant print descriptions of some, but by no means all, of the main rural ROW. I know from personal experience that waving a dog eared paperback at a red faced shouty man cuts little ice.

If somebody in England, Wales or N.I. blocks your ROW they are committing an offence of criminal obstruction under the Highways Act. That same Act applies in Scotland, but the Scottish Police have proved extremely reluctant to get involved, because of the lack of publicly available mapping.

Which law is it that left Scotland out of the ROW mapping ? In England, Councils were required to map Public Rights of Way by the 1949 National Parks and Access Act. My elders tell me that the Bill was ambushed in the House of Lords by agents of the Scottish Landowners Federation, who had the ROW mapping measures for Scotland removed. Ordnance Survey were compelled to publish by the same Act.

Why Scottish lowland ROW are important.

I am an active Cycle Trail Leader and Mountain Leader. As well as teaching navigation and leading adults on leisure trips, I am an expedition Trainer, Supervisor and Assessor for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme (I am not a spokesman for them). Through DofE Expeditions, we introduce complete novices to rural wayfinding; it's up to 12,000 new young people a year now, in Scotland. According to DofE rules the routes have to be found on O.S. 25th and 50th maps. The requirement for DofE Bronze and Silver trips is for a multi day linear route on tracks, paths and lanes, through rural pasture and arable countryside, avoiding settlements and tarred roads. The same specifications suit cycle trail riders and the “Rambler” type of walking tourist. DofE type routes are abundant in England and Wales, making planning and carrying out lowland expeditions there comparatively simple. This is a direct result of Ordnance Survey ROW mapping making lowland rural routes easy to find, and the subsequent footfall keeping the routes open. If the path isn't on the OS database, it isn't going to be used enough for the footfall to keep it open. This is about real, physical, access, not just legal rights. Try fighting your way across a landscape of ploughed, hawthorn hedged, fields where the stiles are a derelict remnant, and without knowing where the gates line up. If, through some effort, you can discover the route of one of the hidden ROW of Scotland, and follow it, you will find that, where the route crosses field boundaries, there are decayed stiles, foot bridges and markers. These are vanishing fast through lack of use, which stems from lack of easily available maps.

Why Scottish upland ROW are important.

The 2003 Scottish Access Code allows estate mangers, pretty much on a whim, to shut off areas of open countryside for “management” purposes. They can't shut ROW without a Traffic Order under the Highways Act, to do so would be a criminal offence. In September a year back I was shadowing a DofE team of 15 year old girls through the southern Highlands. Four times in two days the girls were intercepted by armed adults, quizzed, and told that they were not welcome. Each time the girls were on a ROW, and each time I intervened. Once a self confident adult rocked up the grim faced shootists backed off. In similar past incidents I have had to suggest summoning a Constable before they climbed down.

Why Scottish ROW are politically important.

ROW already exist throughout rural Scotland, some of them for hundreds of years. Freedom of movement on a Public ROW is an ancient Civil Right. The details of Scottish ROW are catalogued by Public servants at Public expense but are deliberately stored in such a way as to make Public use difficult. Your self appointed feudal Masters do not want you to know where your ROW are in case you use them. “It's absolutely ridiculous that you are up here!”, one landed Gent shouted at me, him sitting on his petrol driven quad bike and me on my pushbike.

This is a Civil Rights matter which affects everyone who goes to the outdoors in Scotland. Please make your opinions, any opinions, clear to the Scottish Government. If you are resident in Scotland, please write to your MSP about this. If you are not resident in Scotland but plan to visit, please write to either First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, or the Scottish Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod MSP, care of the Parliament of Scotland, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP. MSP's and Scottish Government Ministers have public contact details advertised on the Scottish Government website,

Thanks for your interest folks.

Re: Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 16 Feb 2015, 6:44pm
by firedfromthecircus
Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Re: Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 17 Feb 2015, 1:25pm
by Elizabeth_S
Don't get me started on the shambles that are the core path networks......

Re: Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 16 Mar 2015, 12:10pm
by Tinnishill
Here’s a topic update,

Aileen McLeod, Scottish Minister for Environment, has announced a Facebook Q & A session on land reform on Tuesday 17 March, 7-7.30pm
Apparently it will be on :

So far the land reform debate seems to have been only about community land ownership, with a few binary yes/no questions about Core Paths management. No discussion has yet taken place about that part of Land Reform which affects most of the population; restrictions on Public access to the countryside. Paragraph 2.16 of the 2003 Scottish Access Code says “Where a public right of way passes over land excluded from access rights, such as the land associated with a building or land on which crops are growing, you can still use the route as a right of way”. How can you do that if you don’t know where the ROW is ? The suggested mechanism to effect a modernisation of Scottish OS mapping is an amendment to the Core Paths section of Part One of the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act, to require inclusion of all catalogued rural ROW.

Must go for a long walk or bike ride to calm down.


Re: Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 7 Dec 2015, 7:05pm
by Tinnishill
Here's an update on how far the new Land Reform Bill has reached.

The Bill was heavily criticised from the floor at the SNP annual conference in Aberdeen, this October. The reported mood in the hall was that the Bill didn't go far enough, but they talked about land ownership rather than Access.

On the 4th of Dec' the rural affairs and environment committee reported that the land management proposals need "more work", and returned the Bill to Parliament. Again, there seems to have been little or no discussion of Access.

So the current situation is that the Land Reform Bill is still being discussed, but they aren't talking about improved Access provision at all. The politicians seem to have had no demand from the public for further developments, such as publication of Scottish rights of way. Meanwhile anecdotes about confrontations and harassment accumulate and land managers campaign against wild camping.

Re: Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 18 Dec 2015, 7:23pm
by Fasgadh
Still a relatively hassle free existence as a keen hacker on a bike in Lowland Scotland, unlike my visits to England - how do you live with such restrictions on your movements? However a big worry, mentioned above is the attacks on camping using the dirty car/van roadside campers as an excuse for collective punishment. At the head of this is the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park who are in the process of extending the East Loch Lomond bylaws to nearly all of their patch. More ominously they are encouraging a national roll out of criminalising (now England sounds quite welcoming) roadside camping. No hassle if out walking, just follow a burn upstream for a few hundred metres but a major league pain in the saddle interface if cycle touring. Stealth camping is fine if you just risk a telling off or eviction but a £500 fine is not so conducive to a good night's sleep.

A far bigger worry than sticking paths on an OS map (once they are on the there, you can be sure that the hasslers will expect you to keep to them) is this very real attack by a National Park on our hard won access rights.

Re: Coming changes to Scottish Access

Posted: 18 Dec 2015, 8:25pm
by Bmblbzzz
Is there not a "Presumed" status in England and Wales similar to the Scottish "Claimed"?