A bothy on a controversial estate in northern Scotland is to close from next month.
The Alladale bothy stands on land owned by millionaire Paul Lister, who says he wants to introduce wolves to the 23,000-acre ‘wilderness reserve’ near Croich, north-west of Tain. The estate is to be surrounded by a nine-foot-high, electrified fence.
Walkers’ groups say this would effectively exclude the public from the land, against the spirit of the country’s right-to-roam law, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. Visitors to the luxury Alladale wilderness reserve and Highland lodge pay thousands of pounds for the privilege.
It is believed the lodge, which was restored by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) in 1972 and has been used as free, open shelter ever since, will be converted to accommodation for paying guests. The bothy will close on 1 November.
Peter King, MBA general secretary said: “While we are disappointed that this fine bothy, which is in a superb location, will no longer be available for use by walkers and other outdoor enthusiasts, the MBA is grateful to both the current owner of Alladale, Mr Paul Lister and the previous owners, Mr and Mrs MacAire for making the building available as an unlocked shelter for so many years”
Alladale’s publicity, aimed at corporate groups, boasts: “Located at one of the most remote lodges in the Highlands with no access roads or Munros on the reserve, your privacy is assured and as a bonus for groups wishing to concentrate fully on the Alladale corporate retreat programme, the reserve is outside any mobile telephone coverage.”
Wild boar have already been released on to the reserve, and there are plans to import European elk and possibly brown bears and lynx.
Journalist and former president of the Ramblers’ Association (RA) in Scotland Cameron McNeish visited the site and met the owner, and has since come out strongly against Mr Lister’s plans. He wrote: “While I would welcome the opportunity of seeing wolves in the Highlands, I believe Paul Lister's plans for an electrified fence is too high a price to pay.
“If he did manage to convince the authorities that planning permission should be given it wouldn't be long before other landowners thought up similar schemes, many of which would be with the purpose of keeping the public out.”
The RA shares Mr McNeish’s concerns. It said: “Ramblers Scotland is clearly concerned about the threat to access posed by such a fence, even if access points are included, and we believe that it is unlikely to receive planning permission.
“Our main worry, however, is that if this development went ahead it would set a precedent for other landowners to stock their estates with a few wild animals and then put a fence around the whole area. We continue to take an interest in this project.”
Paul Lister, the son of Noel Lister, is heir to the MFI furniture store fortune. He bought the Alladale estate in 2003 for a reported £5m.