A MAN stands in front of a firing squad. He’s asked: Any last requests? “Yes,” he replies, “any chance of seeing a dentist? This tooth is killing me.”
Now you may laugh (relax, you don’t have to) but sometimes we get so wrapped up in trivial matters that we fail to see the bigger picture.
I feel that’s what’s happening at the moment with our access laws. There’s a constant battle going on to prevent our rights being chipped away piece by piece.
We all know there have been problems with irresponsible campers on the banks of Loch Lomond. Bylaws controlling camping on the eastern shores were introduced in 2011, aimed at reducing littering and anti-social behaviour.
But the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park authority now want to extend the ban to the western shores and to introduce similar regulations at the northern end of Loch Long, as well as sites near Aberfoyle, Kilmahog, Strathyre, Balquhidder and Lochearnhead. Any blanket ban on camping smacks of using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
This is lazy officialdom. Rather than face up their responsibilities and take action against the offenders under the current laws, they are going down the depressingly familiar modern solution to any problem - a wholesale ban.
This would, in effect, criminalise law-abiding members of the public who have the effrontery to pitch a tent. It’s bonkers - and totally against the spirit of the Outdoor Access Code.
This high-handed attempt at control is more befitting a private corporation than a public body. What next? Will they try to ban access for walkers, runners and bikers on certain routes or days?
Maybe they have plans to turn the whole place into a giant theme park, a Scottish Disnaeland, where everyone has to park at the one place and then bussed in to meet larger than life characters like Donald McDuck, lash out on souvenirs and ‘enjoy’ the full sanitised and tightly regulated Scottish experience.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland and Ramblers Scotland have called for the Scottish Government to step in and resolve the dispute. So far the silence is deafening.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Just look at the situation at the North Chesthill Estate in Glen Lyon which contains the southern approach to a popular round of four Munros - Carn Gorm, Meall Garbh, Carn Mairg and Meall nan Aighean.
Despite the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which enshrined a statutory right of access, problems crop up here on a fairly regular basis. Walkers have reported coming up against intimidatory or misleading notices, locked gates, hostile responses to email or phone enquiries or approaches by the landowner or his representatives. And it’s been rumbling on and off for more 20 years.
But the Neville Chamberlain Appreciation Society, aka Perth and Kinross Council, have failed to take any action. They prefer to pussyfoot around the problem rather than say enough is enough and lay down the law. Appeasement never works, it merely allows the problem to fester and cause resentment on all sides.
The owner would like to have the estate totally sealed off from any access at certain times of the year. If this is allowed to happen then we may as well just rip up the whole legislation. Would he prefer that walkers attacked these hills from the north, east and west? That would be chaos, people appearing from every ridge and corrie. At least with the preferred south entry there’s a modicum of order.
It’s time the Scottish government stepped up to the plate on this (and before anyone starts, I’m an SNP voter. Call me old-fashioned but I like the people I vote for to honour their commmitments.) No doubt there would be a greater participation if he wanted join the wind farm free-for-all which no one has got to grips with either.
I know the collective mind may be focussed on other matters but there’s no point of crying ‘Freedom’ all the time if you allow our day-to-day freedoms to be nibbled away.