April 2001

Comeback to the countryside

A campaign to encourage people back into the countryside has been launched by the Scottish Executive. The "Comeback Code", which will be backed by an advertising campaign, includes guidelines aimed at allowing access without risking the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

The executive is particularly keen to encourage visitors into parts of Scotland which are disease free.

The foot-and-mouth crisis is costing millions of pounds a week in lost trade in the tourism industry and ministers want to give the impression that the country is still open for business.

Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie said the public could go into areas north of the Forth - Clyde line which are currently disease free so long as they observe any remaining protection restrictions. However, he warned that vigilance is still required.

He said the new code would give "simple clear advice to people on what they can do to help protect Scotland's countryside from the threat of disease while continuing to enjoy its magnificence".

The minister continued: "Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde line is now declared provisionally disease-free. This is obviously a factor which will play into the risk assessment process. The situation of access is improving. Blanket bans are being removed. Parts of the countryside are being reopened."

The code, prepared with organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), explains how the disease is transmitted, what the risks are and the areas of greatest risk. It also details nine points people should follow to avoid endangering farm animals and people's livelihoods, such as keeping dogs on a lead at all times and obeying official signs.

Businesses and organisations must conduct a risk assessment before being able to declare an area open.

SNH chairman John Markland declared it was possible to be clearer about easing countryside restrictions because more was now known about the pattern of the outbreak.

He said: "We are anxious to see people returning to those parts of the countryside where there is minimal risk of infection, as long as safeguards are followed. According to advice from the veterinary service, many of the possible risks associated with activities in the countryside can be reduced to an acceptable minimum. Hence the importance of the Comeback Code."

Mr Markland added that some risk assessments could lead to certain sites remaining closed, although he expected there would be a progressive relaxation of the restrictions.

SNH has reopened its nature reserves at Beinn Eighe and Glasdrum, along with the Corrieshalloch Gorge and Inchcailloch Island on Loch Lomond. People are also able to visit at least some part of more than half the Forestry Commission properties in the north, including Glenmore Forest Park and Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in the Trossachs.

The National Farmers' Union of Scotland voiced support for the code - while stressing that vigilance remained "essential".

Vice president John Kinnaird said: "We are part of the tourism industry and the land being used by farmers is a key contributor to Scotland's famous landscapes. There's a common purpose in telling the public that there are places where they can go."

US jet crash

The operation to recover the wreckage of two American fighter jets from a Scottish mountain may take up to three months to complete. Atrocious weather conditions in the Cairngorms area are hampering the search teams, who last week found the bodies of the two pilots who died in the accident.

Officials met in the area on Tuesday to discuss the recovery operation and the potential environmental impact of the crash.

Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Barry Peach, who is helping to oversee the removal of the wreckage, said: "My overriding concern is personal safety. I am not sending people in there to recover the aircraft when the ground is so inhospitable. We are talking nine feet of snow in places and this morning winds of 65, gusting to 90mph."

The two F15C jets disappeared while on a training flight near the summit of Ben Macdui last Monday. Despite the inhospitable weather conditions, rescue teams located the wreckage of both jets and the bodies of the pilots Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth John Hyvonen and Captain Kirk Jones.

A memorial service was held at their home base of RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. Lt Col Hyvonen, 40, was a member of the 48th Operations Support Squadron and Capt Jones, 27, was a member of the 493rd Fighter Squadron. Both men were qualified F15 pilots.

It is strongly suspected that one aircraft followed the other into the mountain while flying in poor weather during the exercise. The incident has raised environmental fears in the area where the planes went down.

Tuesday's meeting involved local land owners and representatives from the RAF, the US Airforce, Grampian Police, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and North of Scotland Water. They discussed the most environmentally friendly way to recover the wreckage, and are due to meet again in a fortnight to finalise plans.

Major Dave Nelson, a health and safety representative with the USAF, said it was hoped that most of the estimated 1000 gallons of fuel being carried by the planes would evaporate. There were no weapons or live ammunition on board the jets.

Scottish Natural Heritage area manager Ron Macdonald said the main concerns were over the engine oil, fuel and carbon shards in parts of the cockpit and tail fins. He added that it was too early to assess the environmental impact because of the deep snow.

But he said: "It has probably occurred in the most important upland area inhe UK for nature conservation."

An accident investigation board has been set up by the USAF, which will produce a draft report within 30 days of the crash.

Skye tourism warning

Owners of tourist businesses in Skye have pressed ahead with a protest against restricted access to the Black Cuillin. The landlord - John MacLeod of MacLeod - agreed on Monday to allow limited access to the mountains, reversing his earlier decision. However, this does not go far enough according to protesters. Local hotelier Steve Bailey led the protest which saw walkers take to the hills. He says that they are expected to be grateful for MacLeod's compromise, but he is only opening a small part of the estate. Protesters wanted a much bigger area open to the public including the area around the youth hostel in Glen Brittle. Mr Bailey, who runs a bed and breakfast hotel in Talisker and also owns sheep, claims the access that has been granted is illogical - it is forcing more walkers on to the roads where they do tend to encounter more sheep wandering about. McLeod Estates, faced with a threatened demonstration by members of the tourist trade, said the island's Black Cuillin mountains will be partially reopened. In a statement, clan chief John MacLeod of MacLeod says he will allow limited access to the mountains. The statement said Mr MacLeod is on "the horns of a dilemma". He added he had to balance the possible outbreak of foot-and-mouth against the major economic difficulties currently being suffered by tourist businesses. But he said he was concerned there is a tenant farm in Glen Brittle, one of the major access points to the mountains and site of a climber's campsite. He feared that a case of foot and mouth there would mean all the livestock on the island would have to be culled, destroying traditional farming and crofting. But he says he has considered his position with reference to various tourist enterprises dependent on being able to access the mountains - and he will partially reopen the Cuillin. The mountains will remain closed between Sligachan at the heart of the island and Glen Brittle, while the camp site will stay closed. The John Muir Trust have officially re-opened the neighbouring Red Cuillin. The partial opening of the Black Cuillins will see access through Coruisk, or through ground owned by the John Muir Trust. There remains no access between Sligachan and Glen Brittle. Skye will be the hardest hit area in the Highlands by a tourist drought this summer if the Cuillin remains closed to climbers and walkers, a Highland Council official warned this week as the foot and mouth crisis continued to escalate. "From the calls we are getting to our hotline, Skye is losing out more than any other part of the Highlands because the Cuillins are closed," said Alex Sutherland, the council's rights of way officer. "I don't think people realise what a threat this is to the farmers and crofters," said MacLeod Estates manager John Lambert. Mr Lambert criticised the Scottish Executive for politicising the assessment procedures and relaxing their initial guidelines on closing access to walkers and climbers. "We have been working with the crofters on our estate to do a risk assessment, and from what we can see it is very unlikely that the Cuillins will be opened," he said. Mr Lambert said he had seen the guidelines the executive had issued to landowners to use in their risk assessment, but had opted to use his own set of guidelines. He added that Dunvegan Castle and the castle gardens remained open to visitors. Meanwhile, other large estates continued to expand their lists of open trails and walkways using the executive checklist for assessing foot and mouth contamination risk. Clan Donald Trust Estates manager Tim Ancrum said that the Dalavil walk in Sleat had been opened, as well as the garden paths and nature trails. "We have done a risk assessment using the executive guidelines," he said. "Now we are trying to get together with the various grazing committees to help them do an assessment." Grazing committees appear to be a sticking point for those trying to open up more access to walking and climbing areas. Much of the access to those areas is through common grazing land. "You'll find it hard to get grazing committees to agree on anything," Mr Sutherland added.

Climber dies in Nevis fall

A climber has died after falling 700ft down Ben Nevis in an accident witnessed by mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington. Journalist Tim Harper suffered serious head injuries in the fall down No 4 Gully. Mr Harper, from Polmont, near Falkirk, was taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William, but was later transferred to the Southern General in Glasgow where he was in a critical condition. He was with a group of climbers when he fell at about 1330 on Monday. He is thought to have plunged through an overhang of snow. Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team were quickly on the scene and took Mr Harper to hospital. A spokesman said: "Chris Bonington was on the mountain at the time and came to assist the fallen climber. "He helped assemble the stretcher and generally assist the mountain rescue personnel." Sir Chris said: "Fortunately, because the rescue teams were at the scene quickly, there was not a lot more he needed to do. As we were coming down we saw blood marks in the snow and we knew something was wrong. At the foot of the gully there was a small group of people surrounding Tim. They knew he had suffered head injuries but they faced a dreadful dilemma. "With head or spine injuries the person should not be moved. But because Tim had stopped breathing, they had to put him in the recovery position to revive him. They did exactly the right thing because he started breathing again. When the alarm was raised, the mountain rescue team and RAF Lossiemouth were magnificent,'' he added. Sir Chris said Mr Harper and his companion were well-equipped and had been descending in textbook fashion. Dr Brian Tregaskis, a consultant physician at the Belford Hospital, said Mr Harper had suffered multiple head and chest injuries. Dr Tregaskis, 42, was one of three Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team members airlifted to the scene.

Bothy squatters evicted

A homeless pair of Cambridge graduates who have squatted with their livestock in a remote Far North bothy have been evicted. Robbie Northway (35) and his wife Ann (60), a former music teacher, took possession of the former shepherd's cottage at Strathan, near Sandwood Bay in north Sutherland, in September. They lived there without electricity, running water or toilet facilities, making regular trips to Kinlochbervie to pick up supplies and shower at the Fisherman's Mission. The couple were originally ordered to leave in October when they were served a removal notice on behalf of the estate's owners, the Scottish Executive. However, they announced they had no intention of going. When they appealed the notice they were given time to prepare a defence by Sheriff Ian Cameron. However, at Dornoch Sheriff Court on January 8, the sheriff found the couple had no case to oppose the order, as they had no title to the property, once the permanent residence of an estate shepherd and his family, and used by visiting shepherds as temporary accommodation within the past generation. The cottage, which is on the Keodale Estate, is maintained for use by hillwalkers by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA). A notice to quit was delivered by sheriff officers who had to tramp four miles on foot over one of Scotland's roughest paths. On April 4 a five-strong party of sheriff officers, police and an office-bearer of the MBA walked to the bothy to evict them. Only Mr Northway was there are the time but he is said to have left amicably and the building was secured. Their presence prompted complaints from crofting tenants who claimed the couple's dogs were a threat to their sheep. The pair moved into the bothy after financial problems forced them out of rented accommodation in Badenoch. Keodale Estate was bought by the former Scottish Agricultural Department in 1921. The Scottish Executive lease it out on a permanent basis to the Keodale Sheepstock Club, owned by Durness crofters.