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"One day a rambler can expect a very big crack on the head and the lawyers will be in action."
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The thin end of the wedge for walkers

Dave Morris, The Edinburgh Evening News, 14 July 2005

We walked across the fairway, and exchanged a friendly word with the golfers as they passed by. The lady was from Vancouver, enjoying the fine weather and facilities at Archerfield Links in East Lothian.

Yes, she was a club member, happy to come to Scotland for one week a year, pay a joining fee of £10,000 plus annual charge of £1000 for her exclusive experience. Welcome to modern Scotland, doing golf the USA way.

Unfortunately, our experience of Archerfield was less rewarding. Beside the public car park, we encountered Archerfield's six-foot high security fence, not entirely dissimilar to the Gleneagles G8 version, with the same intent. Stepping anywhere within the 504 acres of the Archerfield estate was clearly not encouraged.

Following the fence to where it met the sand and rocks of Yellowcraigs beach was equally depressing - there it was marching into the distance, a few yards from the high tide level, stopping all access along the coastal fringe, unless you want to jump and skip across the pebbles, rocks and sand. Difficult if the tide is in.

Archerfield is a warning to everyone who values public access to our countryside and the protection and enjoyment of our coastal scenery. Our planning system today is clearly unable to cope with the menace of the modern golf resort.

It is all too easy, as we watch Jack Nicklaus enjoy his richly deserved salutations at St Andrews, to be misled into thinking that golf, public access and protection of our coastal scenery is in harmonious balance.

This may well be true on those coastal courses, such as Dornoch and St Andrews, where respect for traditional forms of public access, both on the course and between course and beach, is deeply embedded in the psyche of golfer and the wider community.

Not surprising then that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 ensured that public access across golf courses should be protected in statute, provided that care was taken to avoid disturbing golfers in action.

Unfortunately, our legislators had not accounted for new golf course developers combined with local councillors bemused by the promise of mega-money from America, the Far East and everywhere else where a golfer might one day aspire to play the famous links courses of Scotland, and their imitations.

The rot set in with Kingsbarns, developed in the late 1990s between Crail and St Andrews on the Fife coast. At the planning permission stage, we tried very hard to persuade Fife Council to pull the development back a little from the coastline. We failed, completely. So today you would be well advised to carry a hard hat as you walk the coastal path and, if you are a golfer, check your insurance policy. One day a rambler can expect a very big crack on the head and the lawyers will be in action.

The St Andrews Bay development followed, with two more courses north of Kingsbarns, and now a further course beyond these is under construction. Today, you will find golf tees and greens where the coastal path should be and, a few weeks ago, bulldozers were obliterating the existing informal path along the top of the coastal cliffs. Look out for the Fife Coastal Path, supposedly one of Britain's famous long distance routes. Below the golf course you will find a muddy morass of a path clinging to the steep ground and, lower down, signs telling you to wait if the tide is in.

So here, as in East Lothian, our local councillors have sacrificed the wider public interest to the call of the modern golf developer. Each wants a course far, far too close to the coastal fringe but also, in many cases, with a pile of executive housing and maybe a hotel thrown in.

We need new rules for our coastline, rivers and inland lochs, similar to those put in place long ago in other European countries.

In Sweden there is a prohibition against development within 100 metres of the high tide level. Along our rivers, such as the Dee and Spey, new golf course developments point to the need for 50-metre protection zones, at least, between waters edge and golf green. We need this protection now, to provide access for everyone from horse riders and cyclists to buggy pushers and ramblers.

Equally important, we need space for our coastal wildlife habitats, as well as sufficient land to take account of coastal erosion. The golf course developers have to be pushed back, at the cost of a tiny amount of private pain but with a huge public gain.

Later this year, the Scottish Parliament will legislate for a new planning framework. This is the chance to put in place a modern system for coastal protection, which meets public aspirations and needs. Most European countries did this decades ago. It is time for Scotland to catch up. Tell your MSP - no more Archerfields, give us our coast back.

• Dave Morris is director of the Ramblers' Association Scotland

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