The Draft Land Reform Bill issued in 2000, Part 1 of which included ‘access to land’, was widely seen as a disappointing document that was in many places not relevant to the Scottish context and did not live up to the expectations of either access managers, providers or takers. A period of intense lobbying to improve the Bill followed by many people and organisations involved in access, including SOAN.
At this time, the catastrophe of the Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak, which effectively closed the countryside, demonstrated that, on the whole, the public could be trusted to act responsibly and to follow guidance and signs. It was perceived though that some landowners took advantage of the situation and closed land unnecessarily.
This practical experience greatly supported the case for free access put forward by SOAN and others (over 3000 responses were recorded- the most ever received on a consultative Bill) and in 2001 Parliament accepted the ’right of responsible access to most land’ as a core facet of the Land Reform Bill.
Lobbying work on the final details continued right through the committee stages and after extensive parliamentary debate, the Bill was passed on 23 January 2003. However, it still did not become law until SNH consulted on and produced a Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the Scottish Executive (now the Scottish Government) produced guidance to local and national park authorities. This Act was finally enacted on 9 February 2005.
Throughout the period of discussion on the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, SNH encouraged local authorities to employ at least one Access Officer by offering part funding. This was discontinued when Local authorities eventually received increased funding from the Scottish Executive to improve access to the countryside.
Today, the changing economic climate is once again affecting outdoor access. The numbers of access officers are declining and the pressure on those that remain to take on other activities increases. Whilst this is a problem, the achievements of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in recognising the long-held desires of the people of Scotland must never be forgotten. Scotland now has a world-class framework for responsible access to land.