30th March 2017
By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener
As I write we have just enjoyed one of those rare weekends where newspapers report that Scotland is warmer than Spain, where gardens are full of gardeners, while other folk, perhaps less bound to their plots, are heading for the hills and forests of the Park.
And quite right too. We are hugely blessed by our brilliant landscapes, by our mountains and hills, woods, forests and lochs and by the wildlife and nature to be found in such abundance. I think sometimes we are slightly inclined to take it for granted and forget how special it all is.
Access into this great outdoors is one of the key areas where the CNPA can and does make a significant contribution, in partnership as with so much else but with outstanding results. Creating and maintaining the network of footpaths is of vital importance, as is the support we give to community path leaflets, such as the really inspiring one launched in Carr-Bridge a couple of weeks ago.
The world has changed hugely since the days, not really so long ago, where public access to the countryside and the hills was a real challenge. We should not forget the efforts of the campaigners who pushed for and achieved greater access and the literal removal of barriers, sometimes in the teeth of fierce opposition from vested interests. Now our right to move freely though the countryside and over the hills is enshrined in legislation, with responsibility for acting as the Access Authority within the Park resting with the CNPA.
There really are very few issues to be faced. The days of locked gates and impenetrable fences are pretty well behind us but that does not absolve us all from our responsibilities when setting off to walk through some of the finest landscapes in the UK. Our right of access places a duty on us; to use that right responsibly.
We should be familiar with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and this is particularly the case when walking with dogs. Sadly spring brings reports of sheep being worried by dogs within the Park, sometimes killed or losing the lambs they are carrying. This is of course distressing to farmers but also distressing to responsible dog owners who suddenly and unexpectedly find their beloved family pet cannot be trusted around sheep.
Equally we are fortunate in our native fauna, including important ground-nesting birds. At this time of the year and for the next couple of months they are incredibly vulnerable to disturbance, unintended but a threat to our populations of capercaillie and other birds none the less.
Which leads me inexorably to the one issue around access that generates almost more debate than any other; dog mess and the need for owners always to clean up after their dogs. Chatting to folk across the Park I have not found anyone who would argue that cleaning up includes (it definitely does not include) leaving little bags hanging on trees alongside a path.
Walk, bike, ride, explore, with dogs or without; there are few places better. But do remember the access code and let your exploring be responsible. Which is not the same as ‘dull’, however worthy the phrase ‘responsible access’ sounds.