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Public right of access near Kingsbarns Golf Links
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Society defends walkers' rights

Michael Alexander, The Courier, 27 May 2002

A national organisation which represents the legal interests of the public during rights of way disputes has defended people’s right to access a section of the Fife coastal path.

Last week East Neuk landowner Peter Erskine took issue with a statement from Fife Council that the well-used coastal route in the Kingsbarns area was a public right of way.

Mr Erskine, of Cambo, responded to claims made in respect of the coastal path bordering
Kingsbarns Golf Links by stating that the route has “no legal status whatsoever.”

He also raised doubts over the whole question of public access to private property and made it clear that he might have to rethink his attitude to provision of facilities such as community woodland.

But yesterday the national secretary of Scotways - The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society - offered assurances that public right of access to the coastal route had been recognised for over 40 years and was therefore seen as official.

Edinburgh-based Alexander Ballantyne said the route had been recorded In the National Catalogue maintained by Scotways in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage and the local authorities since the early 1960s.

The records of the former North East Fife District Council had also shown it to exist prior to that. He said the route had thus existed for at least twice the period required to establish the status of a right of way at common law.

Mr Ballantyne said, “A number of issues which merit further examination have been raised during the attempt to deny public access to this right of way at the time of the dunhill links championship but these are of a technical nature which need not be examined at this time. More importantly, it is quite unclear on what basis the landowner claims that the route has no legal status whatsoever, since a claimed right of way (quite different from an “alleged” one) has legal status.

“Fortunately, such challenges to Scottish access culture are becoming rarer and, when they do occur, usually emanate from those who are unfamiliar with that culture and arise from certain features relating to the character and recording of rights of way in Scotland.

“They do not have to be and are not usually recorded in title deeds; they are not marked on Ordnance Survey maps as rights of way (contrary to the situation south of the border); they do not have to exist as paths on the ground (as they are routes, not necessarily paths or tracks) and they exist irrespective of any changes of ownership of the land over which they pass and whether or not accepted by the landowner. All of this has been clarified by the society in recent articles in the Scottish Landowners’ Federation journal Landowning In Scotland.

Mr Ballantyne said forthcoming access legislation in the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill will provide even greater scope for public access but this will be in addition to rights of way which will continue largely as before.

He said the continuing importance of rights of way arises from the fact that the legislation, as proposed, will allow suspension of the new access rights in certain circumstances and these new rights will not apply over, possibly substantial, areas of Scotland whereas rights of way can generally be closed only by complex, lengthy and expensive processes and, therefore, provide continuing guaranteed access.

The society has been resolute in safeguarding access rights for the benefit of the public for over 150 years and is the only national body partially supported by government grant-aid in defending the legal interests of cyclists, horse-riders, walkers and others seeking public access.

He added, “We welcome the resolute statement from Fife Council in defence of public recreational Interests and the common-sense statement attributed to the chair of Kingsbarns Community Council in a previous report.”

Mr Erskine has said landowners found themselves in a position of “heads we lose, tails the public win”, and if people were allowed to walk over land for a period of 20 years then owners’ rights would be gone forever.

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