September/October 2002

Why is it that senior members of the Mountain Bothies Association just cannot seem to get along? Over the years the organisation, set up in the 1960s to care for and maintain basic rural refuges, has been wracked by strife, much of it quite unnecessary and a source of embarrassment to the ordinary member on the ground who just enjoys the simple pleasure of sitting by a bothy fire on a winter's night, or spending a weekend squeezing mortar between stones. Much of it has stemmed from a clash of personalities, fuelled by hearsay, rumour and suspicion rather than any concrete facts or proven wrongdoing. Just when it looked as if the organisation was back on an even keel, a bitter power struggle has emerged which could have a major impact on the future of the association.

The source of friction this time round is the forthcoming election of trustees. Members have just been issued with their ballot papers and have until September 27 to decide who should manage what is now a limited company with a £52,000 turnover.

For the first time there are more candidates than trustee places to fill - an unprecedented 19 people vying for five seats. And within the group of hopefuls, there is a clear split between two opposing factions - something acknowledged by MBA chairman Dr Colin Scales himself.

On the one side there's a group of members who responded to an appeal by Dr Scales for new volunteers to come forward. Many of the names are unfamiliar to the bulk of the membership and some have only a couple of years with the MBA under their belts. But all have received the public backing of the chairman. In a letter published in the association's September 2002 newsletter, he says that what has impressed him most is their courage in coming forward as candidates for a committee which many would view as a 'closed shop'. Interestingly, however, this band of faithful followers has organised its own little meeting ahead of October's AGM, apparently to allow them to share ideas on how the MBA can move forward.

On the other side of the divide is a group of largely long-serving MBA members, many of whom have held committee positions in the past. In a letter sent to MBA members, Roger Muhl and Roger Hammond - both in this group - say there is widespread dissatisfaction with what they describe as the chairman's 'presidential style' of management, 'interference with the work of capable office bearers' and 'imposed solutions to issues without proper consultation'.

Some feel this was demonstrated during the debacle that was the Slugain Project. When the idea of creating a bothy in Glen Slugain, on the Invercauld Estate, first came before the local area committee, members decided to defer making any decision on it as they had plenty on their plate with other work. At their next meeting, five months later, the area committee overwhelmingly decided against progressing the project. However, in the intervening period Dr Scales management committee agreed to go ahead with Slugain, much to the frustration of local members. Amid much ill-feeling, it was abandoned after a specially convened local area meeting.

Dr Scales himself is not standing for re-election as chairman this time round. However, in their letter, the two Rogers claim there is widespread suspicion that he hopes to become a paid employee of the association and some of the 'unknown names' are candidates recruited by the chairman in the hope that, if elected as trustees, they will support any bid that he may make to become a paid employee. The MBA did advertise for a salaried executive officer, but as yet no appointment has been made following opposition from some of the existing trustees.

The claim is supported by statements made by two of the candidates, both in the Scales camp. In his election promise, Geoff Harrison pledges to press for the 'appointment of a very experienced member of long standing as a suitably remunerated Executive Officer'. Dr Scales has been chairman for eight years with 24 years service as treasurer before that. Philip Southall goes further. 'Out in the real world, employers are already agreed, if you need a particular job doing, and you have a man who is brilliant at it and wants to do it, then do not hesitate in giving him the job. Vote for me as a trustee and I'll back Dr Scales to the hilt,' he says. Now, if Dr Scales is standing down as chairman, in what position will Mr Southall be backing him 'to the hilt'? The key appears to be the word 'job' and its context in the sentence.

In his ponderings in the September newsletter, Dr Scales expresses his thoughts on the second group, saying some are people who walked away from the committee, some may make 'strange bedfellows' and describing some as quarrelsome. Rather less glowing testimonials to some of the compliments bestowed on his own men and woman where words such as 'professional', 'courage' and 'great asset' flow freely.

Whatever, his views, the supporting statements made by the 'second group' of candidates do show a strong commitment to the ideals of the association and the work on the ground, the practical work that ensures the bothies remain wind and watertight and serve their purpose as potentially life-saving refuges.

For the average member, the candidates will stand or fall on their supporting statements. Here the gulf between the new breed and the old guard is all too evident.

Of the first batch - 11 people - only two are MOs (Maintenance Organisers, the folk who actually look after the bothies). Another is assisting the MBA in health and safety matters, while another is involved in work on the newsletter and creating a photographic archive, all very worthwhile roles. However, the only real MBA experience the remaining seven mentioned in their CVs is that they have stayed in bothies. They promise to bring professional expertise, practical knowledge and youthful enthusiasm to the organisation. But is that enough? I've stayed in hotels, but I wouldn't possess to know how to run the things.

Of the eight candidates in the second group, six are MOs, one is the MBA's acting Director of Projects and an Area Organiser (AO) covering two areas and the final man has been an MO, AO and management committee member in his 11 years of membership. Two are serving trustees at the moment and two were trustees, although they resigned last year.

The MBA does need new blood and new ideas, but not at the expense of hard-earned experience and honest passion. If these assets disappear, then there is a real risk that the association's one objective - to maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places - will be lost forever. Colin Hogarth, MO Callater Stable.

A man required surgery after being attacked by a reindeer in the Cairngorms.

It was the second similar incident to involve the animals which previously have not been regarded as a threat to humans.

The reindeer form part of a 100-strong herd owned by The Reindeer Company, which is based below the mountain range at Glenmore outside Aviemore. The attack is believed to have been prompted because it is the middle of the rutting season.

Male reindeer, known as bulls, shed their antlers after the autumn rut and they are no longer dominant. But it is thought that it was a male still in possession of his antlers which made the attack.

Police think it is possible it was the same one who thought it was being threatened when it and its herd of females encountered a group of hillwalkers above the Coire Caes car-park.

The bull charged the walkers and slightly injured one in the back. His companions threw flasks and other missiles to ward it off.

In the second, more serious incident, two men were out walking in the same area when the bull charged one of them and gored him in his right leg. He was accompanied by his brother who used his mobile phone to alert the emergency authorities.

Police were dispatched to the scene and an RAF helicopter was scrambled to airlift him to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness where he was being treated last night.

The Forestry Commission and IMBA have joined forces in a new agreement which will give a boost for mountain biking in Britain. Both organisations have pledged to work even closer together to promote biking and encourage an overall improvement in the quality and quantity of trails throughout the UK.

IMBA and the Forestry Commission have been working together for a number of years with close synergy resulting in some fantastic forest riding. Both organisations want to manage unsanctioned trail construction, reduce environmental impact and minimise trail user conflicts. A shared goal is to develop trail designs that are appealing, long lasting and well managed, and which enhance tourism benefits.

Joey Klein and Rich Edwards, of the IMBA, are currently a quarter of the way through their month visit to Britain, viewing facilities north of the border.

Joey said: "What we have seen so far in Dalbeattie and Glentress forests has genuinely and wholeheartedly blown us away. It is cutting edge trail work at its best. It's work like this and the pioneering trail developments in Wales over the past few years that we want to replicate. We believe this joint agreement will pave the way for this.

"Britain already has much to offer the mountain biker and we are keenly anticipating what is around the corner in terms of trail developments. This momentum of trailbuilding will result in more miles of excellent singletrack than back home in Moab. The marriage of IMBA's sustainable trail philosophy with the traditional crafts of stone-pitching like we've witnessed in Scotland creates a challenging trail experience that we hope to re-create in the States."

Part of the new agreement will mean that the Forestry Commission will undertake to promote mountain biking to its staff and to help all forestry managers understand the needs of bikers. Paddy Harrop, National Recreation Manager for the Forestry Commission, believes we are to see great developments to come.

He said: "The development of top quality mountain biking trails on our land began in Wales about six years ago and even then IMBA were playing a part. We've gone from strength to strength with mountain biking and we want to raise the bar even higher. The new agreement will help put biking developments on a firmer footing and we expect to be building more and better trails in the future."

Work on a destructive new track on a Highland estate has been halted with immediate effect after The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) wrote to Highland Council calling on them to have the work stopped.

The Attadale estate was creating a huge scar across a Wester Ross hillside by using a bulldozer to change a narrow footpath into a vehicular road. Highland Council planners felt they were powerless to interfere with the creation of this scar on the landscape, because upgrading an existing track is considered to be "permitted development". The MCofS wrote to Highland Council Planning Department expressing disagreement with this interpretation, and requesting they serve a Stop Order and seek reinstatement of the work already carried out. It appears that rather than have a notice served, the estate have agreed to stop the work voluntarily while the planning position is reviewed.

The track is on the west side of Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich, a Munro known affectionately to hillwalkers as "Cheesecake". It is in a remote wild land area, which government planning guidelines already aim to protect from vehicular intrusion.

MCofS Access and Conservation Officer, Mike Dales, said: "This should not be classed as permitted development, because this is introducing a significant new road into a remote and scenic area. The new road is wider, built to a lower standard of construction and is for a different purpose. In planning terms this clearly represents a change of use. We therefore call on Scottish Natural Heritage and Highland Council to take out an injunction and stop this work with immediate effect."

Mike Newbury, secretary of the MCofS Access and Conservation committee, added: "If such destruction is permitted development then the rules need to be urgently reviewed, and the Scottish Executive should recognise this and act quickly before anymore of our wild land areas are desecrated in this way."

On July 11 the new road extended to about 500 metres. According to Simon Fraser at Highland Council it is intended to run for three kilometres. The track starts just east of Bendronaig Lodge and is expected to follow the line of a path marked on the map. The previous bulldozed road that was created last year runs from Bendronaig Lodge to Pait Lodge on the south shore of Loch Monar.

An anonymous bird lover has bequeathed a quarter of a million pounds to help safeguard the future of the Scottish capercaillie.

The bequest, along with other donations totalling £500,000, have helped RSPB Scotland raise almost £2 million to buy 2066 acres of pine woods in the Highlands to be managed as a capercaillie sanctuary.

The purchase of Revack Forest Estate in Strathspey extends RSPB Scotland's Abernethy Forest Reserve near Aviemore and it is hoped that this development will help stem the dwindling numbers of this once common bird.

High deer fences in forests claim around one third of adult capercaillies as they crash into them, so one of the first priorities will be to remove these obstacles.

There are now fewer than 1000 capercaillie in the UK, all of which are found in Scotland, compared to the estimated 20,000 birds in the 1970s.

The species has the dubious distinction of being classed as the bird most likely to become extinct in the UK in the next 15 years.

Dr Peter Mayhew, senior conservation manager with RSPB Scotland commented, ''This land purchase will enable the society to manage almost 4500 hectares of forest for capercaillie in Strathspey - the key area in Scotland for this species.''

Capercaillie can also be found, albeit in limited numbers, in Montreathmont Forest in Angus.

The John Muir Trust has expressed its support for moves by the North Harris Trust to co-operate with a private businessman in order to make an offer to buy the Director Nigel Hawkins, said: "The John Muir Trust is delighted that agreement is being sought by the North Harris Trust and Mr Ian Scarr-Hall to formulate a bid to buy the North Harris Estate in its entirety.

"Going into partnership with a sympathetic private owner is a bold and creative move and sets a new way forward for communities wishing to buy large estates where they do not wish to take on all the assets themselves.

"If the bid is successful it will mean Mr Scarr-Hall will own Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and the fishings while the North Harris Trust will own and manage the land of the 55,000 acre estate.

"We are impressed by Mr Scarr-Hall and his plans for the area which will secure and create jobs while recognising the outstanding quality of the environment of North Harris.

"If the bid is successful - and we are all hoping it will be - it will be an historic moment for North Harris and its people."

Earlier in the year the John Muir Trust became a partner with the local community in a bid to buy the 55,000 acre North Harris Estate which includes some of the most
The steering group of the North Harris Trust tabled an offer to buy the estate excluding Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and the fishings. The bid has been supported by major grants from the Scottish Land Fund and the Community Land Unit of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and a supporting grant from the John Muir Trust towards both purchase and future management.

The invitation from the North Harris Steering Group to the John Muir Trust to become a partner in the North Harris Trust was given after a meeting with the group in Tarbert followed by an invitation to attend and speak at a well attended community meeting. The proposal to bid for the land of the estate excluding the castle and fishings was outlined at the community meeting and subsequently a ballot was held of the community on the matter.

An impressive 401 people voted out of a total electorate of 539 and of those voting 302 voted Yes and 99 No. This was a very strong endorsement of the proposal and a great vote of confidence in the work done by the North Harris Steering Group. The overwhelming support impressed both the Land Fund and the Community Land Unit.

The steering group has invited the John Muir Trust to become a partner to advise and help with environmental management, to bring in their experience of working with local communities in Knoydart, Skye, and elsewhere, and to give advice and help with fundraising and other matters.

The trust was not asked to make a financial contribution and this was not a condition of their becoming partners in the project. A spokesman said it was a great privilege for the trust to be asked to become a partner with the community and to help with the management of such an outstanding area. JMT Trustees agreed they should make a significant contribution towards purchase and management thus helping the community towards filling the funding gap after taking into account the major grants from the Land Fund and the Community Land Unit.

The North Harris Trust will be community led with the majority of the 12 directors appointed by the community and representing different parts of the estate. There is provision for partners and for the appointment of directors by those partners. The John Muir Trust is the only organisation to receive an invitation to become a partner at this stage but the new trust may consider other partners in the future.

The North Harris Estate  An Cliseam (The Clisham) which, at 799m, is the highest mountain in the Western Isles and the outstanding rock peak of The estate has been owned since 1994 by Jonathan Bulmer who is highly regarded by the local community. Previous owners include Lord Leverhulme, Sir Hereward Wake and Gerald Panchaud.

The size and content of Scotland's newest national park in the Cairngorms has been debated at a meeting of a Holyrood committee in the Highlands.

Local groups gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's rural affairs committee at a meeting in Kingussie. It was the last chance for residents to influence their opinions before ministers make their final decision at the end of October.

The proposals to create the UK's largest national park in the Cairngorms were unveiled in May. The planned park would cover an area from Grantown-on-Spey in the north to the Glenshee Ski Area in the south.

It would extend to Ballater in the east and Kingussie and Newtonmore in the west, and it would have a massive impact on the local area and its economy. Hoewver, many people are anxious about the proposed boundaries.
Bill Wright, of the Cairngorms Campaign, said it was what was left out that was at issue.

"The boundaries are really quite inexplicable. We are looking at some of the most remote mountain tops in Europe being cut in half,'' he explained.

Another bone of contention is who should have the final say over planning matters within the park. The majority of those who replied during consultation said they wanted such powers given to the park's board. But the draft proposals say it should stay with Highland Council.

Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles, who sits on the rural affairs committee, believes concerns must be ironed out before any action can be taken.

He said: "The executive has to listen and I, for one, am not going to support this proposal unless there are drastic changes in both planning and boundaries for the park."

Committee convener, Tory MSP Alex Fergusson, said all the issues would be thrashed out before any decision is made.

"This is a significant step in the formation of a very large national park. It has got be right first time. Yes, there is room to change things if it is got wrong but I think we would all agree the best way to go about it is to get it right first time,'' he added.

The report will go to the deputy environment minister Allan Wilson who could have his final decision by the end of the month.

Schiehallion path work Over 30 volunteers attended a work party for BP staff on the John Muir Trust's eastern Schiehallion estate. Participants built foundations for bridges on the first section of the footpath between the Braes of Foss car park and the sheep fank. Contractors have begun work on the second and third sections - 900m beyond the fank and 300m beyond that.

Nevis news The Nevis Strategy developed by the newly formed company, the Nevis Partnership, is getting off to a good start. The John Muir Trust and two neighbouring landowners are developing plans for a 1500 hectare native woodland scheme which will span the length of Glen Nevis from its entrance to beyond the Steall area on trust. The scheme will enable native trees to regenerate by managing grazing without fencing.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland is investigating access restrictions on land south of the car park at Neist on the Isle of Skye.

The Neist Lighthouse was sold a few years ago and the new landowner is now trying to prevent access, putting around 90 climbs, including Death Pirate and Supercharger, out of bounds.

The lighthouse owner and a neighbouring crofter have put up several "private" signs, a "closed" sign and installed a CCTV camera. The MCofS has also received a report that the landowner was abusive when climbers tried to access the coves. This area is well visited by anglers, walkers and tourists as well as climbers.

MCofS National Officer and climbing guide author said, "I cannot see how the landowner can possibly consider restricting access outside of the walled area of the lighthouse, an area which would be regarded as curtilage - private dwelling area - whereas that outside is essentially open ground.

''This kind of problem shows the real need for the right of access legislation to be robust and effective - with real teeth to stop such unacceptable behaviour by an individual landowner."

The MCofS received a report from a climber who visited the area on August 24 with his sons to climb on the sea cliffs.

The climber said, ''At the end of the public road, we encountered a sign. We spoke to a walker from Portree who told us that the sign had been put up by the owner of two cottages at the lighthouse and could be ignored.

''We walked down the path towards the lighthouse and met further signs. The immediate area around the lighthouse is fenced with yet another similar sign. As we walked past this fence on our way down to Conductor Cove we were shouted at by a man who claimed to be the landowner.

''He asked us to leave and threatened to call his security company, and to block my car in. We continued down to the cove, climbed one route and departed. While we were there we saw several walkers and tourists being detered by the sign,'' he added.

Content within tent Camping is the accommodation of choice when it comes to budget holidays according to a survey conducted by Go Outdoors. Almost two thirds (61%) of visitors to outdoor retail stores said they had camped in tents in the previous 12 months while a quarter (25%) had stayed in caravans. Almost a quarter (23%) had used youth hostels and over one fifth (22%) bunk houses or camping barns.

The announcement that the UCI mountain bike world cup is coming back to Fort William in 2003 has been hailed as a "great news" by the Forestry Commission and Nevis Range who are to host the popular event.

The UCI (International Cycle Union) were so impressed with the venue last June that they decided to come back and make the event even bigger than before. An added attraction will be a two and a half hour lung-crushing cross country event through new purpose built trails in Leanachan Forest.
Recreation Manager for the Forestry Commission is Keith Muir and he's delighted that Fort William will once again be on the world's stage.

He said, ''At the last event we had around 10,000 people flocking to the area over the two days and this brought in a great cash boost for the local economy. Over that weekend I don't think there was a hotel, B&B or campsite that wasn't full.

"The benefits to the local community will be even greater this time as we are going to build brand new cross country routes through Leanachan Forest. This means that once the event has taken place we'll have in place a superb structure of biking trails to suit every kind of rider - great for attracting more tourists."

Marian Austin, managing director of Nevis Range, said: "Nevis Range are delighted that the World Cup is coming back. Last year's event had such a buzz about it and brought people to the Highlands who had never considered coming before. Both the downhill and the new 4-cross event are brilliant spectator sports. You have to see it - the competitors must be mad.

"Adding the cross country will appeal to a different crowd and extend the length of the competition. The combination of cycle tracks here in the forest and on the hill, and the gondola uplift mean that currently we have a venue that is unique in Britain. For Fort William to be chosen to host World Class events is a great showcase for what the area has to offer to locals and visitors alike."

The event takes place on May 31 and June 1.