If there was ever any dispute about the case for devolved government, then the Scottish Executive’s brilliant new access laws should certainly persuade any countryside user of its value.
Ground-breaking legislation gives the right of access over all land and inland water to walkers, horse riders and cyclists for recreation or education – providing they act in a responsible fashion. Unlike English legislation, the access is not confined to mountain and moorland (or just to walkers), as the margins of all fields are regarded as being access routes – irrespective of whether crops are being grown or not.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code – which can be found as a PDF file at www.outdooraccess-scotland.com – sets out the responsibilities of Local Authorities, landowners and users. It includes a cycle-specific section in Section 5 which reinforces elements of the IMBA Rules of the Trail. However, there are exclusions, and these will include the area around any buildings or structures, sports fields and sites for which an entry fee is normally charged.
Local Authorities have been given a number of responsibilities, which include:
- A new duty to assert, protect and keep open any route over which these new rights might be reasonably be used.
- A duty to draw up a “core path” plan within three years, which will reflect the desirability of the route and likely level of use, while taking into account the interests of the landowner.
- A duty to establish a local access forum to advise on rights of way and the core path plans.
- An option to maintain and promote this network, keep it free of obstructions and provide waymarking – but unfortunately this is not a duty, so not all Local Authorities may do this.
- A provision to reinstate any ploughed path and recover the cost from any landowner who has failed to reinstate within 14 days.
- A provision to appoint rangers to advise landowners and assist the public to use the paths.
Not surprisingly, this – along with the excellent Forestry Commission trails – has resulted in Scotland in being awarded an international A rating on the IMBA 2004 and 2005 Report Cards.
It is important that mountain bikers engage with Scottish Local Authorities to ensure that our interests are highlighted when the core paths networks are developed, and we strongly recommend that you contact and liaise with your Local Authority Access Officer.