May 2001

Man dies in Glencoe fall

A naval officer has died after falling 700ft in Glencoe. Northern Constabulary said 31-year-old Alistair Stewart fell on Friday, May 11, during a climb in the Lost Valley. The alarm was raised by an American walker who contacted emergency services by mobile phone. It was initially feared that two people had fallen from the Gearraonach Ridge on 3,657 foot high Stob Coirne nan Lochan. However, it later emerged that Mr Stewart's rucksack was mistaken for a climber. Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team and a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Gannet were called to the area, but Mr Stewart was pronounced dead at the scene. Rescue team leader John Grieve said Mr Stewart had been on his way down the ridge when he fell. "I think he was possibly looking for the start of the path down called the Zig Zags," he said. "At that stage the ridge is very steep and he could easily have lost his footing and fallen. Mr Stewart was climbing alone and his equipment was all well-used, which suggests he was an experienced climber." Mr Grieve said that the climbing conditions had been perfect on one of the hottest days of the year. "There have been around three fatalities in that area in the last 25 years, and it is not a notorious accident blackspot," he added. Mr Stewart worked at Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde.

Women are safer climbers

Male climbers are risking lives on Scotland's mountains because they are too gung-ho and over-estimate their own abilities, a new study of rescue incidents has shown. Women are less prone to taking unnecessary risks and more aware of the dangers they are facing, according to the author, Dr Bob Sharp, a rescue team volunteer from Stirling. The findings sharply contradict suggestions, voiced in the wake of the death of climber Alison Hargreaves six years ago, that women should not involve themselves in life-threatening pursuits. Hargreaves died descending K2, the world's second highest mountain, after having become the first ever woman to climb Everest unaided and without oxygen. "The bottom line from my research is that men are more at risk than women and so, from a safety viewpoint, need greater targeting," said Sharp. "Many slips result from their poor concentration or distraction. Our safety messages should stress the need to avoid complacency at all times." Sharp studied more than 1,000 call-outs for Scotland's civilian rescue teams and found that three times as many men as women came to grief, although there are only twice as many men involved. Sharp also found men were more likely to be caught up in avoidable situations. "Navigation, poor planning and bad timing continue to be associated with very many incidents," he said. "These are skills which can be developed and effort should be expended in minimising these weaknesses." Men were more likely to deviate from plans and make snap, impulsive decisions to extend climbing activity or walking, often without considering the possibility that the weather could close in, said Sharp. Sharp is deputy leader of the Lomond Mountain Rescue team and a lecturer at Stirling. His research is to be used by the government agency promoting sport, sportscotland, and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland as the basis for new safety messages to people keen on exploiting Scotland's outdoors. Climber Louise Pescod, from Fort William, said her experience was that women often handled difficult situations better than their male companions. "What I would say is that when you go out in a group, the men can sometimes regress to being little boys and if one says he can do something, the rest will then follow whereas the women are more likely to stand back and try and assess the risk properly," she added.

Sharp's findings were also backed up by Kevin Howett, an experienced mountaineer and national officer for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. "I have climbed with both men and women climbers and I have to say I agree with his findings," said Howett. "It seems to me that men will try and push themselves at all times, trying to climb right on their limits of ability and sometimes beyond, while women tend to be more aware of their own ability. I'm not sure why this is the case. It may be that men get caught up in the challenge while women are better at looking beyond the challenge and weighing up the things that are important to them in the rest of their life, like their connection with their families." The death of Hargreaves, a mother-of-two, in 1995 prompted an anguished debate about the morality of individuals exposing themselves to risk. Hargreaves left behind her male companion to make an assault on the peak of K2 while he decided to wait some distance from the top for the weather to improve. Hargreaves joined another climbing group but was then hit by an avalanche after apparently reaching the summit. Hamish MacInnes, a former rescue team leader, said the elite core of climbers could perhaps be discounted as most accidents happen on easier climbs and routes where there will be far more parity between the sexes. He said: "In my experience women do tend to be more cautious, and I would draw a parallel with driving, where women have far fewer accidents." More half of the 1,000 call-outs examined by Sharp involved people described as skilled and experienced climbers and hikers, suggesting a measure of complacency may be to blame. However, the majority of incidents are still the result of slips or stumbles during the ascent or descent of a mountain or hill, rather than errors made in climbing a technically demanding rock face.

A Glasgow postman has just delivered the fastest round of all 284 Munros. Charlie Campbell completed his 1660 mile expedition in just 48 days and 12 hours, knocking two days off the previous record. He set out on the entirely self-propelled expedition on May 29, starting on Ben More on the island of Mull. Working his way up through the lower and central Highlands, the Cairngorms and Skye, he finished up on the most northerly Munro, Ben Hope, seven weeks later. The mammoth trek involved walking, running, climbing, cycling and swimming the sea sections at Mull and Skye. A motorhome with back-up crew provided support and accommodation for overnight stops, although Charlie camped in remoter areas and used hostels along the route. A member of the Westerlands Cross Country Club, his inspiration for the bid came from a Grampian TV documentary charting the setting of the previous 51 day record set by Andrew Johnston and Rory Gibson. Their 51 days and nine hours knocked 16 days off Hugh Symonds' 1990 record.

Charlie said: 'When I saw the programme in '93 something just clicked that this was an adventure I had to do also. I've always loved challenges.' For the past seven years, the 30-year-old has been steadily working towards the goal, his part-time job allowing him to squeeze in fitness training and planning sessions.

'I'd already walked all the Munros and completed many Ultra-Distance events. I run hill races and I'm average, or slightly above average. I've also done a couple of ironmans and the West Highland Way race but it's challenges I like: something to go for, something different. 'I knew this had been done before, but I'm patriotically Scottish, so it appealed to me for that reason, as did the scale of it. 'Nothing can quite prepare you for an undertaking of this size. The most important element was the psychological battle to keep going, even when the body doesn't want to,' Charlie added. 'I've always been good at planning and organising and I enjoyed working out the schedule, which got blown out in the first week! It took me over a year to get that right.' Friends and club-mates gave him vital support on the hills, sponsorship was secured from Barr's Irn Bru and Baxters, and progress was monitored via a special website ( The venture was thrown into doubt three days in, however, when Charlie damaged his ankle. Two days later he was unable to walk further than the campsite toilet and a trip to hospital in Oban confirmed tendinitis. Rest was prescribed, with the warning that to continue would risk serious injury. Fortunately the injury passed quickly and he was able to continue. 'It took three or four weeks to go away completely. Then it came back at the end when I was going through the night to finish,' Charlie added. Thankfully, it wasn't serious enough to prevent him continuing. Charlie currently works for Royal Mail as a part-time postman. He said: 'This is the ideal job for doing an event of this nature. You have to get up every morning and force yourself out in all weathers, so it's good mental training. It has the advantage also, that I'm finished early, so I could spend the rest of the day exercising and organising the hundred and one things that need sorted for this event to happen.' His record bid was unique in that he'd chosen to swim from Mull to the mainland and then to Skye where previous holders had opted to take a boat. Charlie took some time work to recuperate after the expedition, but was then out on his rounds once again in Knightswood, Glasgow. He's now turning his attention to the Corbetts.

New leadership award launched

The Mountain Leader Training Board Conference held in Edinburgh officially launched a new qualification called the Walking Group Leader Award. This qualification is set to become the benchmark for aspiring instructors and those who wish to lead others on the hills and moorland of the UK in summer conditions. The award follows a similar format to that of the other national awards which surround the teaching of mountain skills. Taking its lead from the highly successful Mountain Leader Award, the Walking Group Leader (WGL) scheme teaches group management skills, understanding of upland hazards, awareness of environmental issues and more. The award is however limited as remote camping is not covered and it is valid for regions where movement on steep or rocky ground will not be required. For further details of the scheme contact should be made with the relevant mountain leader training board for your area (contact details below). Candidates wishing to attain the qualification must first register with a training board who will supply details of the syllabus, etc. Minimum requirements prior to attending a training course are that candidates are over 18 years of age and have a minimum of one year's walking experience covering 20 walks in upland terrain. To be accepted for assessment it is necessary to expand upon that basic level of experience. The holding of a qualification is not necessary for the leading of groups in the UK, however it is clear that following a number of high profile accidents involving outdoor activities that the public are becoming increasingly active in questioning the qualifications with whom they are trusting themselves or their children. Useful contacts: Scottish Mountain Leader Training Board, Glenmore, Aviemore, PH22 1UQ. Wales Mountain Leader Training Board, Saibod Cottage, Capel Curig, Conwy, LL24 0ET. Mountain Leader Training Board, 177-179 Burton Road, Manchester, M20 2BB. Northern Ireland Mountain Training Board, Tollymore Mountain Centre, Bryansford, Newcastle, Co Down, BT33 0PT.

Scotland's disappearing grouse moors

For generations its purple blooms have been an emblem of Scotland's natural beauty, loved by visitors and Scots alike. But heather is now in serious decline, along with the many species of birds and other wildlife that depend on it for their survival. Conservationists are so concerned by the problem that Scottish Natural Heritage is submitting a bid to the European Commission for funding of up to £4 million, designed to foster a series of measures that will help halt the disappearance of the plant and restore it to areas where it's already gone.

The purple carpet has been wearing increasingly thin for decades. Latest estimates indicate that the loss has been much greater than was thought even five years ago. "We have lost 25% of our heather moorland since the 1940s," said Des Thompson, an uplands specialist with SNH. "In some areas the loss is quite horrific - nearly 70%." The problem is more than just visual. Heather is important for the variety of species it supports. These include mountain hare, hawks like the hen harrier and merlin, the golden plover, ring ouzel and red grouse. With heather gone, birds lose their breeding habitat and the cover for chicks, which then fall victim to predators.

Much of the loss of heather is being attributed to the decline in grouse shooting on sporting estates. Between the 1970s and 1990s, the number of red grouse shot and the number of moors with keepers in Scotland fell substantially. With a sharp drop in income, many estates no longer found it viable to maintain grouse shooting and pulled out. Without proper management through a cycle of controlled burning to create new growth, heather has suffered as well. Jonathan Hall, rural policy adviser for the Scottish Landowners Federation, said: "Jobs and wildlife are equally dependent on grouse moor investment. Declining returns will inexorably denude the hills of their heather and the unique value this represents to Scotland." Another factor in heather loss has been the conversion to commercial forestry - prevalent through the 1980s when huge tax incentives led to investors ploughing funds into trees. It came to an end in 1988 when the government finally changed the rules on tax, but the damage had been done and the heather was gone. A further nail in the coffin is overgrazing by sheep and, to a more limited extent, deer. The sheep population throughout much of the uplands increased by 32% between 1950 and 1990, due mainly to agricultural subsidies. Though the rugged north and west of Scotland have suffered, the destruction is at its worst further south. Close to Edinburgh, Thompson cites the Pentlands as a vivid example of a hill range where grass has taken over swathes of ground where heather once existed. His dismay that such a unique habitat is being lost, has led to the formation of the Moorland Working Group. Its purpose is to develop management proposals and the implementation of good practice for Scotland's grouse moors in the hope of fostering the complex eco-system associated with heather moorland and the preservation of wildlife. New forces are now at play, exerting further pressure on heather. Nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere, created by coal-burning power stations and car exhausts favours the growth of grasses as does global warming. Climatologists predict the average temperature in Scotland over the next 50 years will rise by almost two degrees centigrade. Wetter, windier springs are also bad news for heather and the eco-system it supports.

Row over Torridon hydro plans

A bitter row over a new plan for four hydroelectric dams in one of the most beautiful and remote regions of the Highlands is threatening to derail the Scottish Executive's drive to boost renewable energy in order to cut pollution. Mountaineers have condemned the proposed scheme north of Torridon in Wester Ross as an act of vandalism that will wreck some of the nation's most precious wild landscape. But the developer, Dundee-based Highland Light & Power, says it will be one of the best and most environmentally friendly projects of its kind in Britain. The plan to tap 3.55 megawatts of water power from lochs around Baosbheinn Mountain in Shieldaig Forest is an important contribution to the Executive's promise to produce 18% of electricity from clean, renewable energy sources by 2010. The aim is to cut the country's emissions of the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that are blamed for causing climate chaos. But arguments over the project, an outline application for which is due to be submitted to the Executive in the next few weeks, could result in delays that will undermine the government's target. Outdoor recreation organisations and local tourist operators are determined to prevent it going ahead. "The mountain country that this proposal threatens is some of the finest wild land in Scotland. If we allow developers to ruin this then you have to question whether there is anywhere that is safe from concrete and steel structures," said Mike Dales from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

"These people should book a week off and take a walk into the Torridon hills. Maybe they would then work out why the rest of us consider them to be glorified and well-paid vandals." The new plan is a revamped version of a proposal that collapsed last year in the face of fierce opposition from conservationists concerned about its impact on wildlife and scenery. Highland Light & Power withdrew the application shortly before the Scottish Executive was due to publish the final report and recommendations from a public inquiry in 1997. The Executive said that the report, which many believe would have come down against the £3 million development, was still secret because of Highland Light & Power's withdrawal of the application. Dales claimed the company had adopted a "despicable tactic" which he believed was designed to deprive the public of independent assessment. "The public inquiry will have cost the public purse in excess of £500,000 and in return the public will be denied the results of the reporter's thinking. Highland Light & Power should be made to pay back the public money they caused to be spent or should face up to having the report published," he said.

The company argues that it has learned from its mistakes last time round and has redesigned the scheme to meet the criticisms of environmentalists. One dam has been reduced in height from four to 2.5 metres, while the other three would only be two metres or less. All would be built from local stone to blend in. Power cables are to be buried underground, at a cost of £200,000. "I am confident that these proposals will offer a truly sustainable approach to energy generation and will serve as a great example of best practice in sustainable renewable energy development in the UK," said director David McKenzie. "If schemes such as this do not go ahead, the government is going to face a very stiff challenge in meeting this target at a time when Scotland's nuclear power stations will be coming to the end of their useful life." He pointed out that many of the problems raised about the Torridon development had been overcome at the company's recently opened hydroelectric scheme at Loch Poll in Assynt. Two wildlife species about which the government's conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, had been particularly concerned - black-throated divers and freshwater pearl mussels - were thriving at Loch Poll, he said. Damage during construction would also be minimised by bringing building materials in by helicopter, McKenzie claimed. "We fully intend to enter into discussions with interested groups such as the Mountaineering Council of Scotland as well as local people and will do so when our proposals are finalised,'' he added. The scheme creates an awkward dilemma for environmentalists who want renewable energy but value unspoilt scenery. The Torridon development has already won backing under the government's financial arrangement for encouraging clean energy, the Scottish Renewables Obligation. But at the public inquiry four years ago it was opposed by SNH, the Highland Council, the Scottish Countryside Activities Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. As well as being important for wildlife, the region is designated a national scenic area. In addition to dams at Loch a' Bhealaich, Loch a' Ghobhainn, Loch Gaineamhach and Loch na h-Oidhche, it would include four turbine houses, two of which would be underground, and an access track. Mike Dales accepted that there was widespread support for the government's aim of increasing renewable electricity generation. He added: "However, this must not be at the expense of our most precious landscapes and seascapes. Publicly subsidised schemes such as this give renewable energy a bad name and that is a great shame. "Renewable energy is the way to go, but for the sake of the best areas of countryside that we hold in trust for future generations we should not sacrifice our scenery for what amounts to a handful of individuals milking public funds."

Foot and mouth letters

The unofficial right to roam exercised by some, if not all, and enshrined on July 4, 1942 by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston states that: "In Scotland, the law is abundantly simple. There is no such offence as 'trespass', which is a term borrowed from English jurisprudence. Any member of the public is accordingly at liberty to walk over any land in Scotland provided he does so without damage to crops or fences and does not commit a breach of the various Poaching Acts. This applies to the whole country with the exception of private gardens or grounds, which form the curtilage of a dwelling house or other private residence. The only remedy open to a proprietor who finds himself aggrieved by the presence of any members of the public is to raise an action for interdict."

Despite the Scottish Parliament proposing to "introduce modern procedures and arrangements on Access, tailored to Scottish circumstances", it may be difficult if not impossible to better Tom Johnston's blueprint of nearly sixty years ago. Certainly, the recent foot and mouth outbreak and the reaction by many land managers and "lairds" to it should be an alarm call to the many thousands who love the Scottish hills.

Without doubt, there has been a massive over reaction to the foot and mouth outbreak and a general reluctance my many land managers to lift restrictions irrespective of the Comeback Code. Despite some assurances that things are getting better, at the current rate it will be well into next year at the earliest before the statement that the "countryside is open" will be near the reality.

The astonishing aspect in this is the virtual total acceptance of these draconian restrictions by the hill walking fraternity. Although it seems now that things are moving with more of them prepared to publicly protest at the blizzard of "Keep Out" signs.

On reading some of the proposals on the proposed "Access Legislation", I was shocked to discover that a new law of "Criminal Trespass" is being proposed where none now exists. It is clear that the pendulum has moved away from a "Right of Access" and that the land owning lobby have got their act together in forcing changes to the proposals.

The extraordinary outcome of the Scottish Parliament's attempt to enshrine in law the "Right of Access" looks likely to do the exact opposite. The proposed legislation will probably lead to the abuse of the new offence of "Criminal Trespass". There are also likely to be many opportunities for Access being blocked and bogged down in bureaucratic "Local Forums".

There is however still time to move the consultation towards its intended objective but that time is short. If you love the Scottish hills and want to have the "right" of access, there are only a few weeks left to register your opinions. The consultation deadline is the June 30, 2001. Do not expect someone else to put forward your views they are probably expecting you to put forward theirs.

Ramsay Millar, Motherwell.


Aye, I too wonder how much longer the 'Keep Out' signs and pathway marker covers will take to come down than they took to go up, particularly while the last item in the Comeback Code expects all notices and 'advice' from farmers and other land mangers to be followed. Just how long will those 'requests' stay in place? A hunch says that stalking, hind culling, and the next round of lambing will have passed us before the signs rot away or are 'tidied up' by the dispossessed acting on Ian Mitchell's 'litter picking' policy.

By intention or not, will a side effect of this whole ghastly mess be putting back the access debate by 20 years?

Richard Sime

I have just spent the last week travelling the 300 miles from Durness, Sutherland, to Motherwell and was appalled at the situation regarding access to the hills or wildlife sites. It was very obvious that most of those 'responsible for the management of Scotland's country areas' have gone completely over the top regarding the posting of notices 'banning' people from enjoying 'our' great outdoors.

As one notable scribe has related, 'the notices must have been prepared months in advance' for them to appear in such a blanket and total way. Wait and see how slowly they come down.

On the 130 or so miles from Durness to Inverness, sheep had free range on both sides of the road, parking and passing places included. Yet virtually all the hill paths were closed to walkers.

Over the 300 mile trip there was a common theme to the access arrangements. If there was a charge the area was open if not it was invariably closed or had severe restrictions. The RSPB site at Boat of Garten was 'open' - charge £2.50. The RSPB site at Insh, Kingussie - no charge, therefore closed.

Sites next to caravan and camping parks, especially those next to beaches, were open. Wildlife sites not adjacent to caravan parks were almost certainly closed, these including beaches irrespective of livestock present or not.

What is most concerning is that the 'new Lairds', i.e. RSPB, John Muir Trust, the Wildlife Trust, are actually encouraging the closure of our wild areas for the same reasons the 'old Lairds' gave 100 years ago.

Hardly a day passes but we hear of some 'irresponsible' farmer or farm worker infecting animals up 300 miles from known infected farms. No doubt, this 'irresponsibility' plays no part in working out 'compensation' for those responsible.

A root and branch change to the highly subsidised farming methods in Scotland is long overdue so that the taxpayers get value for money. Perpetuating a lifestyle which cannot be viable is an offence not only to those who enjoy the countryside but also a drain on the resources of those that do not.

Again the sheep, four-legged or otherwise, are Scotland's shame.

Ramsay Millar, Motherwell

Thanks to Gary Spence for responding to some of the real issues raised by Ian R. Mitchell. Unfortunately events seem to have somewhat overtaken him - 'non-vaccination except in extreme circumstances' (says the EU). See today's news (March 29, 2001). Need I say more? And as for some kind of plague, of course not but F & M is a disease that can be carried by humans into areas where wild animals live. At this time of year wild deer and goats are at their weakest. 'The disease is rarely fatal' says the EU. Perhaps not to farmstock, but to wild animals? Gary Spence also seems upset by the killing of the farm animals. Is he a vegetarian? They exist to be slaughtered. That's why civilisation breeds them - to eat! It is a pity, though, that we cannot eat the deceased carcases, what a waste.

As for the farming industry, Gary Spence sounds like Margaret Thatcher describing the mining industry. That the miners and other industrial workers (very unfairly in my view) were treated disgracefully is no justification to subject farmers and farm workers to the same fate. Many farmers are tenants and are certainly not responsible for the rules and regulations that almost certainly caused the extent of this outbreak. There are many industries that are relatively unimportant to the UK economy - does that give us reason to scrap them?

However, the real issue is surely the public's access to the countryside during this outbreak. I'm sorry but I cannot subscribe to this conspiracy theory, after all the John Muir Trust was one of the first landowners to stop access to their property. Despite the government's dithering, I believe that to restrict access to the countryside and then to reopen areas after a considered and structured risk assessment was, despite the inconsistency of some of those measures, a far better response to the problem than the usual British 'close the door after the horse has bolted' reaction.

Yes, this is an economic problem. Yes, the media have their own agenda, but I do not believe there has been an over reaction to the situation by most farmers and landowners and I certainly believe that my right to roam will not be compromised in the long term. However I do desperately miss the hills and expect, in fact demand, that the government take steps to ensure that this tragedy never happens again.
Ian Ferguson

I have just read Ian Mitchell's letter. This is the first breath of fresh air since this whole debacle began. It is not only the ability that a minority group (the landowners) have to close down the countryside which is horrifying, but the speed at which it was achieved. I would like to bet that once the 'official all clear' is given, the covers will not be removed from footpath signs with such vigour. And what timing (in England and Wales certainly) - Freedom to Roam bill beginning to happen, moves against fox hunting, etc, etc.

I have great sympathy for some of the individuals caught up in this whole thing, but I cannot get away from the thought that there is more to it all than meets the eye.

Keep up the good work.
Phil Dean, Northumberland.

Mr Ferguson (see letter lower down page) speaks of being ''surrounded by the rotting carcases of the local feral goat herd''. He appears to be suffering from the misapprehension that this animal illness really is some kind of 'plague' which is ravaging the country. Hardly surprising, however, given the mostly unquestioning coverage presented by the media which has served so well as a propaganda machine for MAFF, NFU and others with their own very self-centred interests. Here's an extract actually taken from the MAFF website (the italics are mine):

  • The European Union has a policy of non-vaccination except in extreme circumstances. This is because there are trade implications to vaccinating which would make this option unacceptable. However EU countries including the UK have access to an international bank of FMD vaccine.
    It is a mild short lived, self-limiting disease. The Food Standards Agency has advised that the disease has no implications for the human food chain.
    The disease is rarely fatal, except in the case of very young animals, which may die without showing any symptoms. All affected animals lose condition and secondary bacterial infections may prolong convalescence.
    There is no cure. It usually runs its course in 2 or 3 weeks after which the great majority of animals recover naturally. The justification of the slaughter policy is that widespread disease throughout the country would be economically disastrous due to the effects already noted above.

Note - this is an economic problem, nothing to do with animal health or welfare. What's more it is an economic problem for the farming industry created by their own rules of conduct regarding animal exports.

The more widespread economic impact regarding tourism which is now emerging will, if the figures are accurate, simply dwarf the implications, which have been given so much misguided sympathy, for the farming industry.

Everyone should read the recent report at the Scotsman website by Dr Keith Sumption regarding vaccination. I believe this has been sent to Tony Blair.

The current policy of mass slaughter is almost too obscene to contemplate - it doesn't take much, it seems, to scratch away the thin veneer of 'civilisation' which we pretend to adhere to.

All that aside (a pretty big aside!) the acceptance of restrictions on our freedom of movement has been a giant eye-opener. There should be riots about the ability of the 'land-owners' to so easily 'close down' (a concept which really beggars belief) huge areas of wilderness. And all this to sympathise with an outdated, overly subsidised and, as we can now clearly see for ourselves, completely callous and cynical industry which is relatively unimportant to the UK economy as a whole.

Congratulations to Ian R. Mitchell for offering a viewpoint of sanity amidst the madness.
Gary Spence

I sincerely hope that the Scottish tourism industry will be sufficiently compensated for their losses during the foot and mouth disease outbreak. They have been in innocent victims of this disaster and it would be a tragedy if small guest houses, B&Bs, walking guides, etc, were to go to the wall. As for the farmers, surely they should have insured against such a crisis.
Tom Arbuckle, Edinburgh.

Many thanks to the team for keeping walkers and climbers updated during the foot and mouth disaster. You have provided an excellent service to the outdoor community. Like the great majority of walkers I have not been out at all during the problems and its great to see that areas are now opening up again.
James Dunlop, Inverness.

It seems to me that it is us humans that are being quarantined, rather than the animals at risk of disease. Indeed I find it astonishing, having travelled by train along east and west coast routes of late, to see that sheep and cattle are grazing in open fields and hillsides. Surely common sense dictates that:

a) The chance of any single animal in a flock becoming infected becomes greater if they are spread out, and in the open;
b) If a single animal is infected, it is far harder to carry out the required slaughter and disposal of the whole flock when they can be spread over many square miles of farmland;
c) The disease could be more easily and quickly controlled if the animals were quarantined by being kept in restricted areas, where they could be properly monitored, fed and if necessary slaughtered.
Of course the pattern of farmers' errors, costing the health and wealth of the population at large dear, is well established, between Salmonella, BSE, GM contamination and the Common Agricultural Policy. Now Foot and Mouth threatens to destroy our tourism industry. Will we ever learn?
Chris Adams

With great interest I have been of late following the developments due to the foot and mouth disease, and the closures of hiking routes as a consequence. Most notably I have been following the closure of the West Highland Way, not in the least due to the fact that I plan to walk the way at the end of April, and had already made the necessary flight and accommodation reservations long ago.

First of all, I would like to express my support and full understanding of the closure, particularly as the consequence of spreading, perhaps even to wildlife, would be disastrous. On the other hand, I can imagine that local businesses are in dire straights due to visitors staying away. Although I am sure that the idea may have been coined already, I could no help putting forward a plan that could alleviate the closure ban slightly, without creating significant additional risks.

The idea is to partly open the West Highland way (and perhaps other long distance walks in disease free areas as well) under strict conditions:

a) Allow access to a limited number of hikers per day, each group submitting a clear plan of the route to be followed. All hikers must stay in registered accommodation (no wild camping, etc). The route followed may under no circumstances stray from the WHW, except where previously instructed by authorities. As to the number of hikers, perhaps 50-100 per day per stretch could be workable.
b) With each of the hikers, make sure they clearly understand the conditions under which they can walk the way, ie: not approaching/feeding livestock (complete list on site).
c) If necessary and viable, close sections of the way (perhaps heavily farmed areas - my local knowledge is limited, but perhaps the Milngavie to Balmaha and the Invernan to Bridge of Orchy Sections are too sensitive to allow walkers to pass.
d) At road access points along the way, as well as at all accommodation, provide disinfectant baths for footwear and perhaps sprays for clothing. These access points could be, for example, Milngavie, Drymen, Balmaha, Rowardennan, Inversnaid, Invernan, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, Inveroran, Kingshouse, Kinlochleven and Fort William. These checkpoints could keep a control of hikers registered for each respective section, so that a good overview of who is where can be maintained centrally. As to the staffing of these locations, each point could perhaps be staffed by a joint effort from local businesses, whose interest the limited opening certainly serves. The check points could be located in a local pub or shop, and each hiker would be provided with a list. Opening times would be (normal) walking hours (eg: 0700-1900 each day).

I am sure that given the circumstances, all potential hikers would agree to such strict conditions and, given that those who undertake such long distance walks are generally responsible individuals, cooperation should not be a problem.

Obviously to put a plan in place would require some resources in terms of logistical support and staffing. To generate revenue, I am sure that hikers would be prepared to pay a reasonable contribution so that costs can be covered, an example could be £5 per person per day. Also I would suggest that all hikers who partake in the scheme carry an official permit, and the West Highland Way authority has the right to refuse anybody not complying.

I would be very keen to hear how things develop, and hope that (limited) access to the way will soon again be possible.
Micha Werner, Netherlands.

I have just noticed that at the time of writing only three people had comments to make on Foot and Mouth and Ian Mitchell's letter. One has to ask how many people have read the article and have not commented on it? Perhaps things should have been handled differently by all concerned in government. One area which should have been addressed is communication. People are asking about the countryside: 'Do we or don't we? If so where???'

Thanks to all at the site for the timely and relevant information. Hillwalkers DO take care to protect the land and the rural economies. They help provide an additional source of income to remote areas. Like myself, others have decided to stay away until all is clear, to help protect this valuable resource. It would be be a great idea to think that all outdoor enthusiasts shared the same view...

Happy safe and considerate walking everyone.

I find it strange to read in the paper that Angus Council has closed the car park at Tarfside when, on two weekends since the beginning of the Foot and Mouth crisis, the car park has been overflowing after dark as private dances were held in the local Masonic Hall. It appears to be one rule for some and another for the rest of us.
A Concerned Walker

I have just read Ian R. Mitchell's article with a growing sense of disbelief and dismay. He clearly underestimates the seriousness of Foot and Mouth disease and completely ignores the fact that it can be caught by wild deer and goats. Yes, most well cared for farm animals will survive the disease but many wild deer and goats, especially at this time of year, would not survive.

His comments on the so called double standards applied to the current situation hardly stand up. Of course commercial ski slopes are open, they are self contained areas with no livestock unlike the hills, where unrestricted access at this time could cause great damage. In fact, the limited access that is being introduced at this time, is at risk if people of Mr Mitchell's persuasion are allowed loose on the hill. Does he really want to climb An Teallach this summer surrounded by the rotting carcases of the local feral goat herd?

As for Mr Mitchell's attitude to the farming community, it beggars belief. Does he believe in conspiracy theories? In more than thirty years of walking and climbing in this country and in England and Wales, I could count the number of obstructive farmers or landowners on, well, two hands. Much of the landscape we enjoy would not exist without farming. I do agree that farming can be over subsidised and that methods of farming need to change. However, Mr Mitchell's view is intolerant, narrow minded and ill informed.

The right to roam, which I fully support, includes the requirement that one respects and does not damage the countryside. The current Foot and Mouth outbreak will, if spread by irresponsible walkers like Mr Mitchell, damage the countryside.
Ian Ferguson

Why is it that local Tourist Boards (ie: Dumfries and Galloway) are encouraging people intent on a holiday not to stay away, when the likes of SYHA, NTS, etc are closing their premises in an attempt to discourage people from travelling? Conflicting advice or what!

Why is it that walkers, climbers, anglers are told not to venture forth when skiers, golfers, football supporters are still encouraged to travel and use the facilities? Not only is this discriminatory, it's just plain daft. You either have a blanket ban or not at all. I am totally mystified and FED UP!

I could not agree more with AT. As also a hillwalker of 30 years, I believe that I am as a responsible hiker as the next and it really makes me angry when I, who has not set a boot on the hill during this dreadful problem, nor would dream of doing so, opens up the local paper and reads of a hugely successful skiing carnival at Glenshee last weekend with "hundreds of skiers from around the world" attending. It makes me wonder why I should bother. There is apparently no restriction to going off piste at Glenshee with disinfectant facilities provided. Red deer know no boundaries.

I recently emailed MAFF to see if I could hike strictly within the areas being used by skiers, (ie: Lecht, Glenshee, Cairngorm etc). The reply I got back simply stated that restrictions on the hill were only advisory, that journeys to the countryside should only be made if essential and that it is up to the individual to decide on their own actions. Hardly very useful guidance.

I sincerely hope and believe that all sensible, caring hillwalkers have resisted the overwhelming desire to get on the hill, something that cannot be said for the other lot. I would agree with AT - let's have a 100% ban for all or nothing.
Colin Tock, Aberdeenshire (slowly going up the wall!)

Ben Ledi cabin plans withdrawn

Forest Enterprise has withdrawn an application to build 50 holiday cabins below Ben Ledi, but it is believed they may submit plans for 30 instead. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland objected to the original development of 50 six to eight person cabins at the Strathyre Cabin Site, near Callander, located within the proposed Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. An MCofS spokesman said they believe this development would form a suburban colony with noise pollution and street lighting reflecting across Loch Lubnaig from below the slopes of Ben Ledi, and it would cause disturbance to walkers and cyclists following the official route on the quiet side of the loch. ''The great increase in motorised traffic mixing with walkers and cyclists along 2km of the Sustrans cycleway would be unacceptable, and we believe that a full width road and pavement would be required as a safety measure,'' he continued. ''Forest Enterprise admit there would be a problem of increasing congestion caused, they say, in the main by users of the Ben Ledi car park at the narrow Corriechrombie Bridge entrance from the main road. ''Their solution is an enlarged car park near the Lade Inn in Kilmahog, with access to the south end of Ben Ledi by quad bike routes and forest rides. We believe this would disintegrate into ruts and quagmires, and at least one erosion scar would form and be visible from Callander unless a properly constructed path were built. ''However, we expect that most hill walkers would prefer the more direct route from Corriechrombie Bridge, and would continue to park in that vicinity.

''Forest Enterprise, coincidentally, has blocked the existing route with timber operations, leaving no near marked alternative, only the Stank Glen route to the other end of Ben Ledi.''

Gamekeeper fined over rare bird death

A gamekeeper has been fined £2,000 after he admitted killing a rare protected bird. Douglas Ross (33), shot a young female hen harrier last July at Dallas, near Forres in Morayshire. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said the hen harrier was one of the most rare and vulnerable species in Britain. Ross is the first person in the UK to be convicted of killing one of the birds. Ross' not guilty pleas to shooting a second bird on the same date, having the birds in his possession and carrying a shot gun for the purpose of killing a wild bird, were accepted by the Crown. Sentencing Ross at Elgin Sheriff Court, Sheriff Kenneth Forbes said hen harriers were a rare and vulnerable species. The court had been told that Ross had been employed as a part-time gamekeeper at Craigmill Estate, of which Mill Buie is a part, at the time of the offence. Depute fiscal Sharon Ralph said hen harriers were a specially protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act with an estimated UK population of 570 pairs, the vast majority of which were in Scotland.

She said it was felt by the RSPB that the species were persecuted by gamekeepers and two RSPB protection officers had been watching a nest at Mill Buie because eggs had been destroyed there in the past and they saw it as vulnerable. She said the RSPB also set up two video cameras 130 metres from the nest and at the beginning of June 2000 four young hen harriers were born, two male and two female. The court was told that RSPB officers saw a man turn up at the nest site on July 6. He fired a shot towards the bird which was about 20 metres away from him. Defence advocate Peter Gray said Ross had been attempting to restore an area for grouse shooting after around 25 years of neglect. He had shot the bird "in a moment of acute frustration" and he had pled guilty. Sheriff Forbes said: "I accept that there is a degree of remorse in your case and I accept there is a high likelihood that there will be no repetition of this particular case." Speaking outside the court after the case, RSPB senior investigations officer David Dick said: "It is a horrible irony that this is the first successful prosecution for the crime of killing a hen harrier, because this is probably Scotland's and Britain's most persecuted bird. Within the limitations that the Wildlife Countryside Act has, which is basically a fine, that is a very good fine. It'll certainly send out the message that even in remote moorland areas like this people carrying out these sorts of crimes will have to watch their backs."

Students rescued from Aonach Eagach

Five students have been airlifted off the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe after "mistiming" their climb. The undergraduates from Paisley University called the emergency services from a mobile phone at 10.45pm on Saturday, June 2, saying they were unable to continue along the ridge because of the dark. Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team and an RAF rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth airlifted the party shortly after midnight to Belford Hospital, Fort William, where they were treated for exhaustion and mild hypothermia. A Northern Constabulary spokesman said: "It would appear that they mistimed their climb and did not want to proceed any further in the dark."

New Clova bunkhouse

Efforts to reverse the gloom of the foot and mouth disease crisis will receive a boost in the Angus glens in little over a month's time when the Glen Clova Hotel will open a new 40-bed bunkhouse complex aimed at drawing people back to the picturesque setting. The creation of the bunkhouse, set up in pods of four each with en-suite facilities, follows hard on the heels of the refurbishment of the hotel at the head of Glen Clova. It is part of an ongoing improvement programme which is costing a substantial amount of money according to Denise Binnie, one of the hotel managers. Workmen moved in in March to convert an old steading into the complex which replaces an old wooden bunkhouse that is being demolished. The new one will feature a drying area and common room and is already attracting interest among outdoor enthusiasts. Denise said: "The accommodation will appeal to climbers and walkers looking for anything from an overnight stop to a holiday in the area. It will also be ideal for a family requiring a cheap weekend break. "We've already taken bookings for the bunkhouse and have had quite a number of telephone inquiries from people who know it's opening soon.'' Denise said the July 1 opening is a measure of confidence in the future of the tourism industry. "We are still turning the corner and, at the hotel, we are seeing customers returning now that the glens are back open for business,'' she added.

"This bunkhouse means we have more to offer people coming back to the area. More visitors to Angus as a whole, and this area in particular, can only be good news for everyone.''

SNH call for removal of 'Keep Out' signs

The board of Scottish Natural Heritage has called for the removal of all unwarranted 'Keep Out' signs in the Scottish countryside. Chairman Dr John Markland said: ''The public should be able to access the vast majority of the countryside, so long as they follow the Comeback Code. There is a widespread feeling however that Keep Out signs remain in places where they are no longer required. This is counterproductive. The public are beginning to lose confidence in such signs and could soon start ignoring them. That could mean people might ignore signage in places where restrictions are still needed. 'We call on everyone who has put up a sign in the last few months to review the need for it. If assessment under the official guidelines, drawn up under veterinary advice, indicate it is not required - then it should come down. The public have acted responsibly and with courtesy during the Foot and Mouth outbreak and there has been no infection associated with public access to the countryside. Now it is time for all land managers to return that courtesy by removing the signs which are no longer needed,'' he added. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland welcomed the revised arrangements for carrying out risk assessment announced by Rhona Brankin. President John Donohoe said: "Landowners and managers are urged to remove all unofficial closure signs and replace them where necessary with advisory signs, pointing out preferred routes or calling attention to the Comeback Code. We hope that this process will happen quickly to remove much of the uncertainty for visitors to Scotland's countryside and prevent any tensions between them and land managers. While no walkers have ever carried or spread foot and mouth, visitors are urged to continue to follow the guidance in the Comeback Code. The council congratulates the Scottish Executive, local authorities, landowners, farmers, crofters, foresters, environmental and tourism agencies, for the hard work and co-operation which has helped to minimise conflict during this difficult period.

"Above all we wish to congratulate hillwalkers and climbers whose forbearance while voluntarily suspending their rights of access has been a testimony to their responsible attitude and concern for the livelihood of other land users." National Officer, Kevin Howett said: "We hope that this major step in restoring normal access to much of rural Scotland will help the tourism and service providers who have been so hard hit by this crisis. We urge all walkers and climbers to remain vigilant and continue to follow the Comeback Code."