As we move beyond the pandemic, NatureScot, Scotland’s nature agency, urges everyone to get out and enjoy nature – but do so responsibly. We need to be aware of our impact, to protect Scotland’s wildlife and natural beauty
As summer approaches, Scottish nature is calling us. With spring weather improving and temperatures rising daily, there couldn’t be a better time for everyone to enjoy Scotland’s beautiful scenery.
In recent years more and more people have headed for hills, mountains, forests, lochs, rivers and coasts. But unfortunately, with that enthusiasm came some problems.
NatureScot, VisitScotland and other key bodies implemented a visitor management strategy to help address these issues in 2021, which included promoting responsible behaviour.
Although there are still some problems, the partnership group has found that people’s behavior outdoors is better in 2021. As travel and vacation habits return to normal in 2022, they want to encourage everyone people to continue to do all they can to protect Scotland’s nature. .
NatureScot is running a national digital campaign to raise awareness of the Scottish Outdoors Code, which was first drafted in 2005 to support responsible access rights under the Land Reform Act 2003 ( LRA).
In their excitement to experience Scotland’s beautiful landscapes, people sometimes fail to treat the country’s unique environment with the respect and consideration it deserves.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is estimated that more than one million visitors visited the country’s national nature reserves in 2020, up from 650,000 in previous years.
Unfortunately, not all behaved as they should. There were tales of litter left behind, doors left open, and dogs allowed off-leash around livestock. Fires were started inappropriately and trees were even cut down to make firewood.
NatureScot is committed to trying to discourage this kind of behavior. “There’s good evidence that people have discovered the outdoors during lockdown, and that’s really positive,” says Mark Wrightham, the organisation’s head of leisure and access.
“However, with this discovery came pressure from visitors, so we have been working with partners, and in particular VisitScotland, to try to resolve these as best we can.
“This includes a communications campaign as well as providing better infrastructure and more services to visitors, especially rangers and other field staff.”
With people now able to travel freely, a range of outdoor activities are available to them, from picnicking to more strenuous pursuits such as walking, cycling and mountaineering.
Most of them come under the access code. “In Scotland we have a particularly progressive framework for outdoor recreation – it gives people access to most land and inland waters,” says Mr Wrightham.
“But the main condition is that they behave responsibly. And that is what we are basing the current campaign on.
“The feedback we got last year was that most people wanted to do the right thing. However, in some cases, they weren’t very experienced in the wild, so they didn’t know what the right thing to do was.
“What we try to do is help them and promote the code to give them advice. Many of the posts are timeless – we just want to share them more widely.
Inevitably, he adds, a small minority of people are hard to influence and misbehave, but most visitors are well-meaning and the code is an effective way to reach them. “The three key principles are respect for the interests of others, protection of the environment and responsibility for your own actions,” says Wrightham.
“There is then a whole range of more detailed advice that is found under these headings. This covers actions such as remembering to remove litter, not disturbing livestock, keeping dogs under control and guarding against fire hazards.
“Disturbing nesting birds can lead to the death of their chicks. It is therefore important for swimmers and paddleboarders to remember that nesting birds can be hidden along lochs and rivers.
“In busy areas, disturbances may also occur repeatedly and birds may not be able to settle. Do not linger if your presence disturbs the birds and do not let your dog approach wildlife.
“Another key objective will be to promote responsible camping – for example, camping in small numbers and staying well off the road. Some people are still tempted to start fires, but it’s usually best to use a camping stove – and of course fires should never be started during dry periods when the risk of fire is high,” says Mr. Wrightham.
NatureScot recognizes the need to support code promotion by providing better infrastructure and services. The main actions have been to employ more rangers and other staff on the ground – “something that has been clearly demonstrated over the past year as being helpful”, Mr Wrightham said.
“We would like people to think about the consequences of their actions and behavior. It’s good to see so many people wanting to enjoy the outdoors and connect with it more. It’s just that the responsibility goes hand in hand with this pleasure,” he concludes.
Go wild in the country, but be on your best behavior
Scotland has some of the most progressive legislation in Europe regarding the right to practice outdoor activities. The Land Reform Act 2003 established a legal framework of public access rights to most land and inland waters.
However, these are not unconditional. “The legislation refers to a general right of responsible access, but the key word is responsible,” says Mark Wrightham.
“That means there are responsibilities on the public and also corresponding responsibilities on land managers, who must manage their property in a way that is sympathetic to access and support it.”
The range of authorized access is quite wide, he points out, and it is different from the established position in England and Wales. “It’s generally inclusive, and it’s not limited to specific areas in the same way as south of the border, where there are areas of designated access land.”
In Scotland, rights apply to hills and moors; forests and woods; the beaches and the coast; rivers and lakes; parks; and some types of agricultural land.
However, there are a number of exceptions that qualify as common sense.
These include – and this is no coincidence – houses and gardens as well as other buildings and their yards or compounds. Other exceptions are schoolyards and places that charge admission.
Purposes for which access is permitted include activities such as walking, cycling, climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, swimming and wildlife viewing. Activities that are not permitted by law include shooting, fishing or the use of motor vehicles.
People who love the outdoors should, of course, be aware of their own safety. It is therefore important to take care and be aware of potential hazards – for example, in hills and around lochs and rivers.
“As always, it is also vital to behave responsibly to avoid impacts on others and the environment. Access legislation here is seen as something really important and distinctive for Scotland, and I think it’s something people really want to protect.