Recently, the so-called ‘right to roam’ has been in the headlines, as the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) have called for better access for outdoor recreational activities in England.
Currently, just 8% of England is covered by the ancient right to roam legislation, which allows the public to walk and wild camp in open countryside, regardless of the ownership of the land. A small victory was achieved over the summer, when a Darmoor landowner lost his appeal to ban wild camping on his extensive acres of the national park.
Campaigners hope that this is just the beginning of better access rights in England and Wales. However, in Scotland, people enjoy much more freedom to use the open countryside for recreation. There has always existed an informal right to roam over the hills and mountains of Scotland, and this was clarified with the Land Reform Act 2003.
This legislation was introduced to address inconsistencies and confusion in the lowland areas where more people live, and also to help attract more visitors who in turn would boost the local economy. Unlike England and Wales, the right to roam extends to cyclists and horse riders, and also inland bodies of water.
The freedom of walkers and campers to enjoy the majestic beauty of Scotland’s mountains, from Ben Nevis to the Skye Cuillin Monros, is of course widely accepted. However, as with all rights, the right to roam in Scotland does come with certain responsibilities.
These are covered in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The key principles are as follows: respect the interests of other people; care for the environment; and take responsibility for your own actions. Here’s a look at some of the main points to be aware of if you are enjoying the great Scottish outdoors.
Take extra care when crossing farmland
If you are crossing a field with crops, you should stick to the path to avoid damaging the crops. If there is no obvious path or track, keep to the perimeter of the field and walk in single file.
If the field contains grazing livestock, you should always keep a safe distance from them and keep an eye out for any signs of aggressive behaviour. Cows with calves can sometimes be aggressive towards people, and horses will sometimes react violently if they are spooked or feel threatened, so do not approach them. If possible, look for an alternative route.
Wild camping etiquette
Wild camping is permitted, but bylaws are in force in some areas, including certain areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park between March and September. If you want to camp near a house or building, you should seek the permission of the owner. Wherever possible, keep away from roads, buildings, or historic monuments.
You should also avoid camping in fields with crops or farm animals. Camping should be done in small numbers, and you should only spend two or three nights in one place. Take away all litter and ensure that fire embers are completely extinguished.