Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) are introducing car parking charges at a number of sites across the country. The new ticketed regime will cover several climbing and hillwalking destinations where parking was formerly free.
A recent Hilltalk forum thread mentions the new charges at Ben A'an in the Trossachs, which were introduced earlier this month. Other car parks where the planned charges are in place or imminent include Bennachie, Rowardennan, Ben Venue and several in Glen More and Glen Affric.
The charges (for cars) vary from £1 for an hour to £3 for a full day. These charges are compulsory. Some landowners cannot legally enforce such fees, but under the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 Forestry Commissioners have powers to "...provide or arrange for or assist in the provision of tourist, recreational or sporting facilities and any equipment, facilities or works ancillary there to... and to make such charges as they think fit in connection with any of those facilities".
We asked FCS to tell us more.
'We are introducing a more standardised approach to car parking charges across some of our sites in Scotland' explained a spokesman.
'We operate 329 car parks across Scotland and 281 of them will remain free... that's 85 per cent of them. We are only charging at 45 car parks in total, and three forest drives.'
'We have been charging for car parking at a number of these forest sites for many years, so the whole concept of being charged for car parking is not new.'
How do they respond to the objection that the public have already paid for the upkeep of FCS sites through taxation?
'Just like other public bodies we are facing tight times' said the spokesman. 'We are having to improve our business efficiency and raise income from the national forest estate to offset some of the costs of the taxpayer and we already do this in a large number of ways; car parking is just one of them.'
'If we don't raise some income from car parking then we simply won't be able to maintain car parks or any surrounding infrastructure associated with them. These charges help to ensure we can continue to provide the same level of service, maintenance or infrastructure for people to enjoy.'
'We think our charges are modest and we hope the majority of people will think it is a relatively small price to pay.'
'Regular users can buy a season ticket from the local office which represents good value for money - eg. you can get a season ticket for all the car parks in the Cowal & Trossachs forest district area for only £20 a year.'
'We would hope the vast majority take a reasoned approach to this and pay, but if payment is not received within 14 days we will reserve the right to pursue the payment and an additional £10 admin fee.'
But what about hill-goers who spend the night - or several nights - out?
'We recognise that this is the case for hillwalkers at a number of places including Glenmore and we have advised staff to show discretion here' explains the spokesman. 'If they are spending the night away from the car park (not camping there) we would only expect people to pay for a day's rate.'