Money and political clout will determine future right-to-roam cases in Scotland, unless the law is changed.
That’s the fear of the Ramblers’ Association, which is facing a cash crisis following the expensive loss of the high-profile Kinfauns Castle case in Perthshire which saw it landed with a bill of up to £80,000.
Walkers in the Highlands: right to roam law may be the preserve of the rich in future
It faces potential further costs in the access case involving Euan Snowie’s Boquhan estate in Stirlingshire and the looming battle over American tycoon Donald Trump’s plans for a massive golf complex on the sand dunes of Balmedie in Aberdeenshire.
Euan Snowie is a Labour party donor and Trump has been controversially cosying up to Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond.
The Ramblers’ Association (RA) Scottish convenor Alison Mitchell issued a Christmas appeal to members and others who support outdoor access in the nation, to boost the organisation’s fund for fighting these actions.
Mrs Gloag’s costs, she said, were much higher than would be expected for a case of its kind. She said: “Our fear is that such exceptionally high expenses claims will deter local authorities, local communities, individuals and voluntary organisations from taking on access court cases in the future.”
The RA and Perth and Kinross Council, which jointly brought the case with the association, had limited their own costs to £30,000 each. Ms Mitchell said the RA would be pressing for legislation in the Scottish Parliament to protect bodies such as the Ramblers and small authorities, which cannot afford such huge legal bills.
Ms Mitchell said: “One solution might be new legislation which makes each party solely responsible for its own costs in such cases. Otherwise, we may arrive at a situation, where only those who are rich enough can afford to resolve access disputes through court action.”
The RA in Scotland has also been involved in the inquiry into the new Beauly to Denny electricity line, which would see massive pylons constructed through the Highlands.
The RA needs more money for its legal defence fund. The fund was set up in August last year in anticipation of the battles looming. Members donated £24,000 but that cash has now run out and needs replenishing if the Ramblers are to continue fighting the causes of access and conservation in the face of the onslaught by moneyed owners and business people with the ear of those in power.
Ms Mitchell made a direct appeal to the RA’s members: “Any donation you are able to make will help us ensure that years of dedicated campaigning to secure access rights and protect our natural heritage are not eroded away by landowners and developers.
“The Ramblers in Scotland must be able to stand up to these challenges and uphold the public interest on behalf of all walkers and everyone who values our wild and beautiful landscapes.
“Your loyal support is crucial. Without your continuing commitment to the work of staff and volunteers we would be a great deal weaker in facing the challenges of tomorrow.”
She pledged that any money donated to the fund will be spent on legal advice and support north of the border.