I went for a walk at the weekend, up Scolty Hill (near Banchory).
As you can see, it was a pleasant day, with clear views down to Banchory then along the course of the Dee its mouth at Aberdeen.
You can also see a fair amount of woodland in the photograph. Scolty Hill and the surrounding Scolty Woods are managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. Generally, FCS encourages responsible access taking to its terrain (although there is a pay and display car park: I cannot make my mind about whether such charges to access the outdoors are a good idea), so I had no concerns about having to quote the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 at anyone calling into question my right of responsible access.
I did have some cause to think about land reform though, as I wandered down through Scolty Woods. I chanced upon a long abandoned house, on its way to being well and truly claimed by the forest. Photos from my camera phone will explain the overgrown dry-stane dyke, old well and ramshackle remnants better than words ever can.
I know nothing of this land’s history. If anything, this former dwelling reminded me of the Bennachie colonists, the last of whom left in the 1940s, some time after a commonty was divided from under the community. (Incidentally, that site is also best accessed by a pay and display Forestry Commission Scotland car park, but I digress). I have no idea if the house, or at least the house site, and what was the in-bye land could provide a viable living in the present day, apparently overcome as it is by woodland. Someone more skilled in ecology or anthropology could maybe provide that answer, but for present purposes it serves to highlight that humanity used to have a closer relationship with this spot than the occasional recreational visitor or forester has to it today.
Should we try to shake-up the law of Scotland, by providing a regime that might allow for an old way of life to be re-kindled, or perhaps a new way of life (or even just management) that is somehow preferable to the present day?
Welcome to the contemporary land reform debate. It took me a while to get there, but at least I showed you some nice photographs on the way.
The consultation on land reform in Scotland that I blogged about previously closes on 10 February. When I was not enjoying Scotland’s outdoors at the weekend, I was drafting my submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation. I used the new-fangled online submission tool and I was generally quite impressed with the interface. A PDF of my response was provided on completion.
I have written a lot about land reform lately, whether for this consultation, for the LRRG, for academic purposes or in relation to the community empowerment proposals (on which, a Scottish Parliament committee reported today), but despite that I felt it was important to put a response in. Perhaps I could have said a little more, especially in relation to the human rights norms driving towards rather than restraining reform, but I note the Scottish Human Rights Commission is making that point (as indeed I did in my submissions on the Community Empowerment Bill).
There are two weeks to add further thoughts to the mix. A Land Reform Bill is coming, that much is clear from the current politicking at Holyrood. What it looks like will draw on the responses to this consultation and other writings that led to this consultation. All of this might be too late for the smallholder who used to live at Scolty Wood, but it is no less important for all that.
Last but not least, here is pretty picture of the Falls of Feugh. Just in case you found the text of this blog boring.