His­tory Of The Land Re­form Act

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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.”

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