Outdoor Access in Scotland has a long history dating back centuries. Whilst this has traditionally been viewed as open access, especially to the high ground, land management changes of the early 19-century saw that change. Landowners tried to resist open access and even the historic rights of way, such as drove roads were under threat. At this time community and public action challenged this resulting in landmark court actions to assert different rights of way and the public’s right to use them.
Dismayed at these costly actions Members of Parliament (MP) and charities such as the Scottish Rights of Way and Recreation Society campaigned for a simpler system to allow local authorities to have a simpler way to resolve right of way disputes. This was partly successful with local authorities becoming responsible for rights of way matters with the passing of the Local Government (Scotland ) Act 1894.
The goal has always been to achieve a public right of access to land and in particular the mountains. MP James Bryce sponsored the “Access to the Mountains (Scotland) Bill and despite being presented to Parliament 11 times, it was never successful.
Through the 20-century improved public access to land and for the protection of rights of way was campaigned for. There was limited success with the likes of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967, but the provisions were time consuming and resources were limited.
However, from that time on there was increased leisure time for people and an increasing demand for access to the countryside. Long distance routes were created, the first being the West Highland Way, local communities and organisations and local authorities started to put more effort into improving footpaths supported by schemes such as Manpower Services Commission. Path construction techniques developed rapidly and there was a flurry of Countryside Projects maintaining and creating paths, mostly aimed at walkers.
Scottish Natural Heritage, published a report in 1994 entitled “Enjoying the Outdoors”, which heralded a change in thinking. Perhaps for the first time, it set out a strategic approach to consider the access needs of cyclists, horse riders and people with disabilities, as well as those of walkers. The report also highlighted the need to consult communities much more about the paths that they wanted. This approach was continued with the formation of the ‘Paths For All Partnership’ and the Scottish Countryside Access Network in 1996. The increased involvement of communities in access was seen as a very positive step forward and was encouraged by government policy. With devolution to a Scottish Parliament in 1999, a promise was made to introduce legislation that would give a right of access for non-motorised users.