Now the deer stalking season has arrived Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is advising hill walkers to check online about stalking activity in their chosen destination before venturing out, using the newly expanded Heading for the Scottish Hills service.
The stag stalking season, July 1 - October 20, is a popular time of year for walkers, so to make life easier for both hillgoers and estates three years ago SNH set up the Heading for the Scottish Hills pilot. This online service had 7500 hits last year.
The website includes general information about stalking on all participating estates and contact details for further information. Some estates provide detailed information on the site up to a week in advance, describing where and when stalking will take place, and suggesting walking routes that avoid these areas. There is also information about responsible behaviour for land managers and walkers.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code encourages walkers and other recreational users to take reasonable steps to find out about stag stalking – and this is made much easier with the Heading for the Hills website. The web service has replaced Hillphones this year, say SNH, because of demand for an online service.
Of course the service is only as good as the information put in by estates. It relies on voluntary participation from estates, and still covers only a small part of the total area of the Highlands and Islands. But coverage is much improved on last year. The website has expanded in 2012 to include more of Scotland's most popular hill-walking areas, including in the Cairngorms National Park, Breadalbane and the west coast.
Fiona Cuninghame, SNH recreation and access officer, said:
'This web service is a quick and easy way to check that you won't disturb deer stalking when you're out in the hills between July and October. I'd encourage all walkers to try the site out and let us know what you think.'
Andrea Partridge, Mountaineering Council of Scotland Access Officer, said:
"The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has been closely involved with the Heading for the Scottish Hills website and is delighted to see that it has been further extended to provide essential information on stalking areas. We would encourage all hill-goers to check the website especially during the stalking season and contact the relevant estate.'
And speaking for landowners, Richard Cooke, chairman of the Association of Deer Management Groups, added:
'The number of people going to the Scottish hills for recreation has increased steadily over recent years and in some cases that can make it difficult for deer managers, particularly during the autumn period. There is no reason why both walkers and stalkers can't share the hills, but the need is for more readily available information so that all hill goers can take account of the needs of others. We see the online version of "Heading for the Scottish hills" as a really important step forward in that communication process.'
The web page takes its name from the 'Heading for the Scottish Hills' book, a collaboration between landowners and hillwalkers published between 1988 and 1996. For the first time, this book provided hill walkers with an easy way to identify and contact participating estates to find out where stalking was taking place.
Maybe one day there'll be comprehensive coverage.