FEATURE THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The Great Outdoors
With Europe’s last great wilderness on our doorstep and the first signs of summer in the air, we thought it was time to turn our thoughts to something wild. The following pages are crammed with suggestions of just some of the thrills and spills you can participate in over the coming months.
And even if you are not the type who happily runs up and down mountains, dives out of aeroplanes or plunges into the surf, there should be something here to tempt you to do more than put one toe in the water, jump back in the car and head off for the nearest tearoom.
Losing our way
Most landowners are happy to let you walk across their estates, but some aren’t. Now the killjoys could find the law on their side, discovers Eddie Gibb.
If, as everyone imagines. hill-walkers and ramblers are wholesome. respectable people who always close gates behind them. why is the Government trying to make criminals of them? The Home Office says that's not the intention of the ‘aggravated trespass‘ clauses of the Criminal Justice Bill which were drafted in response to the perceived threat to public order posed by ravers, hippy convoys and
hunt saboteurs. But several outdoor organisations including the Ramblers Association regard the Bill as potentially an enormous threat to our right to enjoy the countryside.
What‘s worse is that Scottish walkers and climbers may have the most to lose ifthe Bill. which began its passage through parliament last week. is not amended. The ability to roam freely in Scotland is not a legal right. but because there are no criminal trespass laws it is hard for landowners to stop anyone who isn't damaging property from walking across private land. But if the crime of aggravated trespass was introduced, landowners could call on the police to turf anybody off their land who they consider are ‘intent‘ on disturbing activities such as grouse shooung.
‘The whole thing turns on the interpretation of the word “intent” and whether that can include inadvertent actions.’ says Ramblers Association director Alan Mattingly. ‘We think it could indeed catch people who inadvertently disturb the grouse. We are
arguing that if this is a problem. as we believe it is. then Scotland would be particularly affected because there are so few rights of way.‘
Countryside groups are lobbying hard to have the clauses rewritten to exclude walkers. but the Government's unwavering position is that the existing draft will not affect them so it doesn't need changed. The Ramblers Association is trying to present its alternative legal opinion to change the Govemment‘s mind. However. there is some concern that the Bill is pandering to the natural Conservative constituency of landowners who want to keep private land private. if that's the case. the Ramblers Association at least wants to force the Government to admit it.
Conflicts between the interests of landowners and countryside users are nothing new, and Scottish National Heritage is close to completing a major review of access in Scotland, though its final report has been delayed to allow inclusion of comments on the Criminal Justice Bill. There is a feeling among
countryside users in Scotland that the report must include recommendations for legislation which legally establishes the ‘right to roam‘ if it is to have any impact. Even if in practice walkers are not prosecuted. the proposed legislation would increase the threat behind the kind of signs already appearing on some Highland estates which seem intended to discourage or intimidate walkers.
‘Landowners who don't like walking on their land will use any excuse to suggest people don't walk there.‘ says Dave Morris. the Ramblers' Association's Scottish officer. ‘We encourage people to exercise their right to roam and think it should be backed up in law.‘
His advice to walkers is respect private property. but don‘t be intimated — if you‘re challenged by a landowner. be polite but don't necessarily assume you're in the wrong.
Forfurt/Ier details (‘()Ilf(l('f I/Ie Ramblers Association Scotland on 0592 0/1/77 and the Scottish Rig/us of Way Society on 03/ 652 2937.
12 The List 2llMayr-21une I994