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6. Access


Scotland has a long tradition of enjoyment of access to land and inland water for recreation. Yet many of these customary freedoms were coming into question through the 1960’s- 80’s. On the other hand, in the 1990s, Government was committed to promoting outdoor activities as a means to a healthier lifestyle, and to help rural economies through the attraction of visitors and tourists (SNH, 2003b). The election of the Labour Government in 1997, and subsequently the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, brought a political commitment to legislating on outdoor access.

The Access Forum was set up in 1994 to promote debate between recreation and land managing interests and the main public bodies. The Forum had an advisory role in the development of the Land Reform ( Scotland ) Act 2003, and on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SNH, 2003a). The Paths for All Partnership was set up in 1996 to promote the development of path networks because of the growing demand for more paths near to where people live and work. A survey carried out in 2001 found that the vast majority said they would not change their level of participation in the countryside if the access law was changed, but a significant majority indicated they would participate in sightseeing, short walks and picnics more often (Scottish Executive, 2003). SNH does not anticipate that there will be a sudden surge of extra visitors to the outdoors, rather a steady increase in responsible access in the years ahead as people become more aware of and confident about using access rights and with improving access opportunities – including the development of path networks (SNH, 2003b).

The Land Reform ( Scotland ) Act 2003

The Land Reform ( Scotland ) Act 2003 and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code came into effect on 9 February 2005 . The Act establishes statutory access rights which have to be exercised responsibly. Owners have the duty to manage land and conduct ownership in a way that respects access rights. The Code gives guidance to both the public and land managers on responsible behaviour in relation to the Act. The extent of the duty of care owed by a land occupier to anyone on that land is not affected by the Act (SNH, 2005a).

The Land Reform ( Scotland ) Act 2003 establishes statutory rights of non-motorised access to most areas. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides practical advice on interpretation of responsible behaviour associated with access rights.

Access rights under the Act do not extend to motorised access, hunting, shooting, fishing, and having a dog (or other animal) not under proper control. Local authorities may appoint rangers to advise and assist land owners and members of the public with access rights.

Land to which the new statutory rights do not apply is relatively limited in extent, including the curtilage of buildings and farmyards, quarries, railway property and airfields. Land which is growing crops is not included within the rights but access along field margins, tramlines and between rows of vegetables is within the rights so long as unnecessary damage is avoided.

Although the new access rights do not extend to farmyards, farmers are encouraged in the Code to continue to allow access (Code page 86).

Local authorities have the duty to:

  • defend and assert access rights and routes
  • publicise the Scottish Outdoor Access Code
  • establish Local Access Forums (which advise and assist on access matters)
  • prepare and review core path plans (SNH, 2003b)

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