In 1884 James Bryce MP for Tower Hamlets introduced an Access to the Mountains (Scotland) Bill Clause 2 of which said - “ … no owner or occupier of uncultivated land in Scotland shall be entitled to exclude any person from going on such lands for recreation or scientific or artistic study, or to molest him in so walking.” It was not supported.
In all, he put the bill forward seven attempts and all of them failed to receive the support they needed to become law.
121 years later and with our own Scottish Parliament, Bryce’s dream became reality. On 9 February 2005, Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 came into operation creating a right of access to all land and inland water in Scotland.
The fact that it has taken over a century for the Act that Bryce originally envisaged to come into effect is testimony to the efforts of those who have believed in it. It is also a testament to the power of the House of Lords - the House of the landed gentry. Most of the times that previous bills to secure a right of access to land failed had been due to the intervention of the House of Lords.
Interestingly, Bryce only wanted a right of access on foot and only to the uplands. What we have now covers all non-motorised transport and covers all land and inland water.
Our hard-won right of access is subject to responsibilities. In fact, if you don’t exercise your access rights responsibly you have no right of access. Make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities are.
Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining?
Access rights may have looked very different if the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak had not occurred in 2001. The effects of that awful disease were felt much wider than just the farming community. Tourism was badly hit by the negative publicity surrounding the outbreak and the many unnecessary land closures as people tried to prevent the spread of the disease. Some landowners tried to prevent access to land long after it was necessary and this helped to radically change what was a very poor Bill for access takers into one that was much more pro access takers.
Timeline to our right of access:
Research by Countryside Commission for Scotland & Scottish Natural Heritage 1990s
Draft Land Reform Bill launched 22 February 2001
Received Royal Assent on 25 February 2003
Came into operation on 9 February 2005
Find out more about statutory access rights.