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Springing onto the hills

Thursday 16th March 2017, 11:02am


As the days lengthen and the temperatures begin to creep up, many folk turn their attention to summer hillwalking.

Scotland enjoys some of the most enlightened access opportunities in the world, but the right of access exists only if it is exercised responsibly. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code gives full details of rights and responsibilities for those seeking access, as well as for landowners and managers, but here’s a quick guide to some of the things we can do to make sure we act responsibly?

Wild camping

Spending a few days out in Scotland’s hills can be a wonderful way to extend your trip, perhaps enabling you to reach more remote summits, or simply enjoying the experience of living in the landscape. Access rights extend to wild camping, i.e. camping that is lightweight, done in small numbers, and only for two or three nights in any one place. Please note that the emphasis is on ‘wild’ - avoid causing problems by not camping in enclosed fields, keeping away from roads and buildings, and being careful not to disturb deer stalking or grouse shooting. The emphasis of responsible wild camping should be on leaving no trace of your visit. Here are some practical guidelines to help you achieve this:

  • Carry out all your litter and remove all traces of your tent pitch.
  • If accessing the hills for several days using your car to get to the start of your walk, be careful to park somewhere responsible, paying any charges due and taking care not to obstruct access.
  • Wherever possible, a camping stove (as opposed to an open fire) is the best way to cook, boil water etc, being careful to extinguish all matches. Placing the stove on top of something that won’t burn (like a flat and stable rock) is also a good idea. Vegetation and peaty soils are very vulnerable to fire so please do take extreme care.
  • Avoid causing pollution by urinating at least 30 m away from open water/rivers/streams and burying solid waste as far as possible from open water/rivers/streams and buildings. Used toilet paper should be carried out and disposed of appropriately on your return to base.

Read more about wild camping here.

Footpath erosion

Sadly, the popularity of some of Scotland’s hills means that some footpaths and popular ways up and down the hills continue to be increasingly eroded by trampling boots. You can do your bit to help reduce further erosion in a couple of ways:

If you use a path, sticking to the middle of it may be best as that at least avoids walking along the edges of the existing path. Walking along the edges can lead to further path widening through the trampling of the vegetation and subsequent soil erosion.

Walking well away from the path may be an option to reduce erosion. This can have the effect of “spreading the load” across the hill and may help reduce localised erosion.

Dogs

Many people enjoy the freedom of the hills with their four-legged companions, and the right of responsible access extends to dog walking provided that dogs are kept under proper control. As a dog walker, your main responsibilities are:

  • Ensuring that during the bird breeding season (approximately April to July), your dog is kept under close control or on a short lead in areas such as moorland, forests, grassland, loch shores and the seashore.
  • Never let your dog worry or attack livestock.
  • Do not take your dog into fields where there are lambs, calves, or other young animals.
  • If you go into a field of farm animals, keep your dog on a short lead or under close control and keep as far as possible from the animals.
  • If cattle react aggressively and move towards you, keep calm, let the dog go and take the shortest, safest route out of the field.

 Ground nesting birds

Hillwalkers should be aware of their potential impact on ground nesting birds, particularly during spring, and keep an eye out for signs of nesting activity. Instinctively, most ground nesting birds are likely to respond to passing walkers in the same way as they cope with potential predators i.e. so long as walkers do not remain in the area of the nest, the parent bird(s) are likely to either remain on the nest or return to it quickly once the walker has passed.

Keep an eye out for any signs that you may be near a nest site, for example a bird displaying repeatedly to divert your attention away from a nest, or an obviously agitated bird. If you think you may be close to a nest, be especially careful where you place your feet. Be especially careful when selecting a wild camping site to ensure you do not interfere with a ground nesting bird.

Where to find out more

You can find lots more useful information relating to responsible access on our website as well as wild camping advice. It is also worth reviewing the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, taking particular note of the sections on wild camping, human waste and litter. Mountaineering Scotland also has useful leaflets relating to reducing our impact in the hills , and toilet/hygiene matters.

Wild camp in the Cairngorms.