Ramblers Scotland has joined a legal dispute against a powerful landowner's attempts to permanently block a footpath through his West Highland estate. A local issue for several years, the case has begun to gain wider notice, and may even have national implications for access in Scotland.
Complaints have been raised previously about locked gates on the Ardnamurchan Estate, and according to local sources parking laybys have been blocked and interpretation boards ripped out. In 2019, two local walkers were reported for alleged aggravated trespass for walking on the path in question.
Having been interviewed by police, and a report sent to the procurator fiscal, no further action was taken against them. But Ramblers Scotland has branded the case "unprecedented and worrying". Access disputes are a civil matter in Scotland.
The path from Glenborrodale to Acharacle on the Ardnamurchan peninsula is a scenic route that has been used, say Ramblers Scotland, by generations of walkers, and serves as a strategic long-distance trail. More recently a section of the route was developed as a wood yard, with planning permission granted on the understanding that access rights would be maintained.
Subsequent attempts by The Highland Council to resolve access past the site have been rejected by the estate, and local walkers say they have effectively been denied access to a vast area of countryside as a result.
While the Ardnamurchan Estate's actions appear questionable in the context of Scotland's access legislation, and left unchallenged could set a precedent for landowners elsewhere hostile to public access, we understand feelings at a local level are more nuanced. In an area with little employment, a significant number of livelihoods depend on the 27,000 acre estate, in which owner Donald Houston has invested heavily. Few appear inclined to speak out against the area's major landowner - a situation that suggests highland feudalism is not yet a thing of the past.
A sheriff court last week granted Ramblers Scotland permission to join The Highland Council in opposing a bid by Woodland Renewables to use section 28 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to remove access rights from the affected part of the Ardnamurchan Estate.
As well as opposing the section 28 application, The Highland Council intends to prove that a path that crosses the affected area of the estate is a Right of Way.
The Estate has appointed a QC to represent it. To fight the case Ramblers Scotland, a charity, faces legal costs of up to £82,000, and has today launched a Crowdfunder appeal to support its work on this and other legal cases.
Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said: "We always view legal action as a last resort. In fact, we haven't entered an access case of this type in well over a decade, particularly as legal action can be so costly.
"However, this is a landmark legal case featuring an historic and important path. If we don't fight to save the route, it'll be a significant blow to our hard-won access rights and walkers will be banned from parts of this beautiful trail forever.
"I hope that lovers of the outdoors will consider donating to support our work - and deliver a resounding message that people in Scotland believe our access rights are worth fighting for."
The parties are next due back in online court on 2 February 2022.