History Of The Land Reform Act
ALTHOUGH a campaign to safeguard public access rights was long-lasting, reaching back to the 1890s when Liberal MP James Bryce first placed his Access to Mountains (Scotland) Bill before the Westminster Parliament, it was during the 1990s that pressure built up for “right to roam” legislation.
It was felt that the previous traditional freedoms to enjoy access to the countryside, based on ancient customs and traditions, were being increasingly eroded by landowners who believed access was a privilege that should be paid for.
Outdoor organisations, including Ramblers Scotland, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, as well as a host of walkers, mountaineers, skiers, cyclists, horse riders and water sport enthusiasts, joined together to campaign against these attitudes and persuaded politicians to secure access rights in statute.
In 1997, the incoming Labour Government agreed to legislate for the right to roam, and this task eventually fell to the Scottish Parliament as part of the Labour-liberal Democrat land reform programme.
According to Dave Morris, a former director of Ramblers Scotland, the absence of the House of Lords, with its influential landowning members, in the Scottish legislative process was crucial.
He said, “What this meant was the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 could be modelled according to principles already established in Scandinavia and quite differently to access legislation in England, which, to this day, is much more restrictive.”
The 2003 Act secured access rights to most of Scotland’s land and water, supported by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which provides detailed guidance on how access can be taken in a responsible manner, alongside obligations on landowners to manage their land in responsible ways to take account of access requirements.
The Act and Code also define the role of public bodies in support of access rights and provide powers to remove obstructions and other impediments to access.
Dave said, “The result is world-class access rights, which underpin the fundamental right of every citizen to enjoy the environment in which they live and work.”