The long running issue of access on the Ledgowan estate near Achnasheen in Wester Ross (see UKH news) has taken a new and slightly sinister turn recently, with the release of a document by the landowner detailing a policy that some have likened to police state methods.
According to land reform campaigner and blogger Andy Wightman and the West Highland Free Press, Ledgowan's owner Andrew Simpson, already infamous for intimidating walkers, locking gates, doing his best to over-ride Scotland's access legislation, and bulldozing a controversial 18km of tracks through the hills, has now detailed the estate's access policy in an open letter distributed to local residents.
This states that estate workers will attempt to quiz any walker they meet for contact details. Those whose response is deemed unfit for whatever reason will be photographed, perhaps along with their car.
It is unclear what Mr Simpson intends to do with his info and photographs. Is he compiling dossiers on potential opponents of the access regime on Ledgowan, following recent adverse publicity? Simply continuing to be as obstructive and confrontational as possible to walkers exercising their rights on his land? Or seeking to deter poachers with no regard to anyone inconvenienced in the crossfire?
Photographing members of the public peacefully going about their legal business may not be against the law, but that of course cuts both ways. Ledgowan's access policy would seem to encourage tit for tat photography, a situation that looks more likely to escalate tension than calm the waters. As for contact details, nowhere in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 does it say that members of the public are obliged to offer up their names and addresses to landowners.
Some are bound to find the regime intimidating. To others it may prove a provocation.
As quoted in the West Highland Free Press, the access policy says that: "all walkers met on Ledgowan will be asked for contact details, and: ‘If this is not forthcoming or staff consider there is any reason for doubt they will take a photograph of the individuals and or their vehicle.’
The following points are also listed:
- No-one is denied access – we abide by the law.
- No-one is allowed to walk in the curtilage of our property.
- Gates will remain locked due to security reasons."
By way of justification the letter goes on:
'We are concerned that a stalker coming off the hill with a rifle is a vulnerable target for malicious people who may be out to cause trouble.'
Citing the possibility of trouble making is not to say that any trouble has actually been made, but the policy is said to be a response to thefts on the estate, signs being pulled off gates and the shooting back in July 2013 of a rare black throated diver - an event the estate disclaims responsibility for.