BHS Scotland held a well-attended equestrian access conference in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park on the last day of October giving a snap shot of where equestrian access in Scotland currently is – in terms of the 15 year old access legislation. The conference was chaired by Euan McIlwraith from BBC Scotland

The Land Reform (Scotland) 2003 Act gave horse riders the same rights of responsible access as walkers, cyclists, canoeists, non-motorised buggy users, pram pushers, hang gliders and cavers (not that we want to ride below ground or fly in the air!) yet sometimes in Scotland equestrians are unable to use their rights because of discrimination which leads to locked gates, off-putting signage and other obstacles.

The keynote speech was delivered by MSP and Scottish cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform, Roseanna Cunningham, who said: “Scotlands world leading right of responsible access is the envy of the world and it is so important that the principles of responsible access are instilled in newer generations.”

Education in responsible access is a preoccupation of the BHS in Scotland and the offer still stands, we will come and talk to any group of riders anywhere if it helps prevent irresponsible access. The conference was also used to examine the recent Drumlean judgement and its significance in terms of caseload was the subject of much discussion.

Other presentations included; ‘Multi-use access and Scotland’s Great Trails’: Vyv Wood-Gee, ‘Developing Falkirk’s Access Network – in the Hoof Prints of the Kelpies’: Angus Duncan, Outdoor Access Team Leader Falkirk Council. Challenging Obstructed Access –Drumlean Case Study: Kenny Auld, LLTNPA. ‘Legal Implications of Drumlean and Other Cases’: David Blair, Anderson Strathern. ‘Expectations vs Reality –Access Officers’ Perspective’: Richard Barron Operations Director – Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (ScotWays) ‘Responsibility and Liability’ – The Legal Perspective: Catherine Macdonald, Anderson Strathern and BHS Scotland out forward the equestrian perspective.

The overall conclusion from the event was that; thanks to The BHS horse riders in Scotland do enjoy the same rights of responsible access as others, how full this right is remains very regional – it depends where you live and on others understanding and acceptance of the legislation in your area.

That Scotland’s access legislation is excellent and horse riders should have the same freedom of responsible access as walkers and cyclists but in reality we often don’t.

The Scottish access legislation is still relatively new so we all have to continue to work in partnership with other stakeholders and with exemplary responsibility to “Make the best even better” so that horse riders set the example for other access takers.

Key points acknowledged included:

  • The actions of one horse rider, no matter how irresponsible cannot be used as an excuse to lock all horse riders off areas of countryside.
  • The Roads Scotland Act needs to be reviewed in order for horse riders to fully enjoy their rights of responsible access.
  • Mapping and signage is a big challenge for our industry because visitors to Scotland on horseback cannot look at a map, see a track and presume they can ride there.
  • Access professionals and horse riders often have unrealistic expectations of the BHS in terms of preventing irresponsible access, being able to influence all horse riders and in terms of what we can fund. Our sector has less access to funding than other recreational users and the National Walking and Cycling strategy serves to crystallise this barrier.
  • Access professionals all behave differently in respect of ridden horses but horse riders need to do more to help themselves, the two national parks give excellent examples of being welcoming to all NMU access takers equally where possible.
  • None of this is bad it’s all progress and thanks to conferences like ours there is more understanding this month than there was last!