Residents, walking groups and local politicians have urged a Clackmannanshire estate manager to “immediately” reopen a popular path that has been sealed off.
A recently installed gateless deer fence bordering Cowden Estate and Japanese Garden, near Dollar, has blocked a scenic path up to Law Hill on land owned by Sara Stewart.
Walking groups said the fence breaches access laws, and urged Stewart to “immediately” reopen the path.
She did not respond to requests to comment, but on social media said she wants the land to become part of the Japanese garden attraction, which requires paid entry and, she claimed, would “not come under the right to roam legislation”.
However, the Scottish Rights Of Way and Access Society (Scotways) argued that the land “won’t be automatically excluded” from public access rights, which apply now.
Scenic Cowden path ‘blocked’
Helen Todd from Ramblers Scotland said her group had been “speaking with concerned locals about this new fence, which blocks the scenic path up Law Hill”.
“The barrier appears to clearly breach Scottish access legislation, which places a legal duty on land managers to respect public access,” she added. “We urge the land manager to immediately act to reopen this popular local beauty spot for all to enjoy.”
Local politicians also urged Stewart to reopen the path.
“I would encourage the landowner to ensure that they meet statutory access requirements as outlined in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and consider options such as the installation of a gate,” said Clackmannanshire MSP, Keith Brown.
“My office will be in touch with Clackmannanshire Council who have a duty to enforce the code to make sure any necessary action is taken.”
Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “Scotland’s beautiful countryside is for everyone to enjoy – so I’m deeply concerned to see access to a well-loved local beauty spot arbitrarily cut off by this new deer fence.
“What’s even more frustrating is that there are clear alternatives that would have allowed continued access for the public as well as allow for land management. A simple gate would have achieved this.
“I hope the land manager will act swiftly to restore access to this beautiful path so that locals and visitors can continue to enjoy the stunning landscape for years to come.”
Plans for land to join estate
On 3 October, Stewart replied to a post in a Dollar Facebook group where locals complained about the fence. “I understand that people are disappointed by [the] change, but the fence is extremely close to the old trig [a stone pillar on the hilltop],” she said.
“I spent hours planning the boundary so that the fence would be discreet… I could have sold the whole of Cowden several times over to developers. I was approached by golf consortiums, hotel chains etc., but I chose not to.”
Stewart stated that she had sold part of Law Hill last year. “This was in order to free up capital to protect the future of the Japanese Garden,” she said. “Many of you will know that my family had farmed Law Hill since 1861 so this was not an easy decision.
“The land I retained is to be leased to the Japanese Garden at Cowden [charity] which as you know does not come under the right to roam legislation.”
But Scotways’ Richard Barron claimed that “statutory access rights do apply to the land around the trig point and the landowner has a duty to manage their land in a way that respects those access rights”.
While the wider estate was excluded from standard access rights and allowed to charge access fees when the land reform act came into force, the land Stewart intends to lease “won’t be automatically excluded because another area of land was”, he added.
Some landowners and the public have clashed over access rights over the years. Landholders have allegedly blocked or deterred public access to Scotland’s paths more than 1,000 times in recent years according to data we obtained from local authorities.