Our website uses cookies throughout our system and to help us provide a better service. Continue to use the site as normal if you're happy with this, or click here to change your settings

20 years of Scottish access rights

Monday 23rd January 2023, 3:28pm

By Access & Conservation Officer, Davie Black

Today we celebrate 20 years of our access rights in Scotland; statutory rights that enable everyone to enjoy outdoor recreation across the country.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is one of the earliest and most significant pieces of legislation that was agreed by the Scottish Parliament. It put on a legal footing what the people of Scotland had traditionally enjoyed for many, many years - the freedom to roam over the land and enjoy the benefits of that.

These rights were hard fought for in committee rooms, debating chambers and pubs before the current parliament building was built at Holyrood, and we acknowledge the hard work that organisations and individuals gave of their time and expertise: champions of mountaineering interests like Dave Morris, Bob Reid, Nick Kempe, Alan Blackshaw and Cameron McNeish, to name but a few.

This is not to say that we can do anything we want – the Act states the nature and extent of access rights; that access rights must be exercised responsibly, with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code providing guidance and advice on responsible behaviour to both the public and to land managers.

There are a few situations and activities that are restricted, for example motorised access to land for one, and providing for a reasonable measure of privacy around houses is another. But generally, we can enjoy a whole range of recreational activities across Scotland, free from restriction, including wild camping.

Having said that, there is still work to be done to understand the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which is on the whole common sense – be respectful of others’ interests, care for the environment and take responsibility for what you do.

20 years on from the passing of this historic Act of the Scottish Parliament, there are unfortunately still instances of obstructions to recreational access - locked gates (by accident or purpose), extensive high deer fences funded by state grants, badly worded signage, and occasional confrontations. And on the other hand, reported instances of disturbance to wildlife and to livestock, litter from dirty camping, inconsiderate toilet behaviour and damage to land.

Mountaineering Scotland’s CEO, Stuart Younie, said: “It is important that we celebrate the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and acknowledge the tremendous amount of work carried out by the individuals and organisations involved in drafting the legislation and particularly those representing the mountaineering community.  The right to access Scotland’s landscapes and nature unhindered is something to cherish and protect. We are very much aware of its value to our health, wellbeing and to the Scottish economy whether you, are a walker, climber or snowsports tourer and are determined to ensure it remains this way for future generations to enjoy.”

Davie Black, Access and Conservation Officer said: “Although access to the hills and crags is free, there is still a cost attached; the environmental cost of damage to the landscape through trampling and erosion, the climate cost of carbon emissions from our recreational activities, and the social cost of managing cars and car parking on narrow rural roads.

“To address these issues, Mountaineering Scotland offers information and advice on all sorts of recreational access matters; to deal with litter we encourage everyone to #TakItHame; for vehicle pollution and carbon emissions, we urge car-sharing and to plant a Tree A Trip; and if overnighting in a tent, to enjoy Considerate Camping.”

Today we celebrate the recreational opportunities that our access rights have given us over the past 20 years; the magnificent views from mountain tops and ridges, the challenge of gnarly rock faces, and traversing the broad sweep of snow-covered hillsides, and we look forward to enjoying many more years of this access for enjoyment, health and wellbeing.