IT IS high time Scotland's politicians took a fresh look at the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Public access across agricultural land has become 'an unprecedented issue' for farmers and crofters, as the Covid pandemic has cleared city centres and sent a huge surge of people into the countryside, many of them for the first time. Having tolerated that phenomenon – and the problems that it has brought them – for nearly two years, farmers are now calling for a review of the 17-year-old Code, which sets out the rights of responsible access and provides practical guidance intended to ensure safe and responsible enjoyment of the countryside.

In November, NFU Scotland asked its members to share their views on how the Code operates for farmers and crofters in its current form, and this week reported a 'fantastic response' to that survey – but a less than fantastic appraisal of the Code itself, which was described as no longer being effective for landowners, and requiring modernisation to fit the scale and type of access that is now taking place.

"This is not about them against us," insisted NFUS vice president Robin Traquair. "It is simply that there are consequences to having too many people in one place. We have to be able to close off parts of our farm when there is activity happening."

Revealing the results of the survey, Mr Traquair said that problems with public access had become a very common subject in the calls he received from union members, with some reporting 'horror stories' of hundreds of visitors taking access every day, leaving open gates, broken fences and litter in their wake. While the vast majority of access-takers were responsible, there was a persistent element within those crowds who regarded their right of access as a right to behave however they pleased.

Union policy director Jonnie Hall pointed out that the increase in people exercising their so-called 'right to roam' had run in parallel with increases in sheep-worrying and fly tipping.

Read more: What is the true cost of public access?

"We are not looking for additional restrictions – we are looking for a review of a 17-year-old code. Is it still fit for purpose?

"ScotGov are making a big thing of access to the countryside being an important part of people's well-being. That is fair enough. But let's make sure that urban people's well-being isn't being improved at the expense of rural people's mental health."

Mr Traquair concluded: “Our members have made it clear in their response to our survey that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be updated.

“The Code has not been formally reviewed for 17 years since it was first approved by Scottish Parliament in 2004. The past couple of years of increased access have shown that more needs to be done to protect Scottish farmers and crofters’ ability to safely produce the high quality, sustainable food and drink expected by consumers.

“The Scottish Countryside is a beautiful working environment, and to protect it for all who want to enjoy it NFUS have been discussing the issues with Edward Mountain MSP, who is engaging with a range of stakeholders and seeking a review of the Access Code to bring it up to date.