Access the authority

David Clyne, Recreation and Access Manager with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, discusses his role – and the rights and responsibilities of walkers in Scotland.

If you enjoy the outdoors and travel outside Scotland, you will quickly appreciate just how amazing our rights of responsible access are. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is a ground-breaking piece of legislation that not only provides unparalleled access rights, but for the past 15 years, has provided me with a pretty cool range of outdoor jobs.

Luckily, I get to combine work with play. As the Recreation and Access Manager for the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the core of my job is to protect, develop and promote responsible access.

Work or play at Uath Lochans?

I have lived and worked in the Cairngorms for over 5 years. I have fond memories of visiting the area throughout my childhood and in later years on ever extended holidays. As a keen walker, mountain biker and paddler it wasn’t a difficult decision to move my life to this outdoor playground. I have a passion for the stunning landscapes and internationally important plants and animals. The combination of being active outdoors and appreciating my surroundings is integral to my life and wellbeing.

Access authorities are here to help

It is my team’s duty to uphold access rights in the Cairngorms National Park, one of the most heavily protected areas in the United Kingdom: National Park, Special Area of Conservation, National Nature Reserves, RAMSAR sites and SSSIs.

With over 7,000 km of paths in the Park it’s also wonderfully easy for our 1.84 million annual visitors to explore by foot, bike, horse and canoe. Enjoying such a special place means we all have to be mindful of our surroundings and change our behaviour when asked (e.g. dog on lead in sensitive area during bird breeding season).

This means we need to promote recreation but also conserve and enhance the natural heritage of the area. Sadly a small, but growing number of access takers forget they only have rights if they act responsibly. Access rights are not supreme – it is our job to find a balance between all the legislative duties to promote access whilst protecting nature.

Managing an access authority is not solely focused on internal challenges; it requires partnership across national sectoral boundaries (public health, recreation user groups, land management organisations and tourism).

Luckily, I also lead one of the most experienced access teams in Scotland. We are all outdoor people (not one grey suit is owned between us) with a huge range of professional outdoor education and land management qualifications.

The team has over 40 combined years of access management experience. We are committed to upholding and promoting access rights and have been at the forefront of national delivery for many years. Did you know that we:have resolved hundreds of access issues, complaints and obstructions through negotiation

  • – were one of the first access authorities to challenge an access obstruction in the Sheriff Court (Aviemore case)
  • – issued Scotland’s first ever path order to allow the extension of the Speyside Way (Kinrara)
  • – have invested over £10m in upland and lowland path works with our partners
  • – raised over £1 million to extend the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Newtonmore
  • – designated 666 miles of core paths
  • – financially contribute to the on-going maintenance of lowland and upland paths
  • – promote responsible access “tread lightly in the Park” campaign
  • – financially assist and co-ordinate the delivery of 7 Ranger Services within the Park
  • – developed and promoted a network of community paths
  • – manage a programme of Health Walks within each community
  • – are leading on multi million pound active travel initiatives (Active Aviemore)
  • – work in partnership to develop and promote physical activity in the outdoors

As you can see, working in an access authority is about more than interpreting legislation and enforcement duties. Delivering real change on the ground and encouraging people to get outdoors is equally important.

Irresponsible access

Native woodland at risk: live tree used as a fireplace, Lairig Ghru.

Sadly, irresponsible behaviour is as big a problem as the behaviour of those that seek to obstruct access. Access is a right but it cannot be viewed in isolation. It does not trump nature conservation legislation or the rights of people earning a living in the countryside. Every time somebody does not use their rights responsibly they jeopardise the balance that we are seeking to find in Scotland. In the Cairngorms, the main challenges are:dogs off leads disturbing young livestock and ground nesting birds in sensitive areas

  • – campfires and the risk of wildfire damaging native forests
  • – litter on lowland paths, upland peaks, roadsides and bothies
  • – disturbance of protected wildlife
  • – unauthorised mountain bike ‘guerrilla’ trail building

Policy reviews, press releases, on site patrols and signage all attempt to tackle these issues. Countryside Rangers, Estate Officers and Access Officers work really hard to manage the challenge and change public behaviour, but resources are stretched.

Lamb killed by dog, Tomintoul

How would you allocate limited resources?

CNPA investigates every access complaint it receives but is often criticised for not taking action on certain issues (particularly via social media). Some blogs and social media posts default to a position that access authorities are complicit in eroding access rights (inaction, resource allocation, semantics in press releases, historic signage) and express paranoia that land managers are collectively seeking to obstruct access. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Access Authorities have to choose if it’s in the public interest to challenge acts that go beyond the spirit of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. CNPA successfully resolve the huge majority of these issues through negotiation.  

There are two full time access officers in the Cairngorms working across 6% of Scotland’s land mass. Imagine you are one of them with limited time and resources. How would you prioritise the following (you only have resources to achieve 2 in your current work plan)?

  1. working with a community to improve and maintain their local path network
  2. negotiating with a landowner to unlock a locked gate on a busy path after they showed you photos of sheep attacked by dogs
  3. instigate legal proceedings to remove poorly worded signage, which does not significantly obstruct access
  4. working with a community to raise external funding to develop a safe route to school

It’s not perfect, could certainly do with some amendments, but Scotland has excellent access legislation and 96% of visitors surveyed tell us they ‘love’ the Cairngorms National Park. To protect these rights for future generations it is time for a professional, measured and mutually respectful way for us all to talk about access rights and responsibilities.

Let’s make irresponsible access as socially unacceptable as drink driving. Think what can you do to help.

You can report an access issue by using the contact details here.

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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.