Seminar to explore public interpretations of countryside access rights

Seminar to explore public interpretations of countryside access rights

Research into how we perceive our right to roam the countryside will come under the spotlight at a seminar at the University of Aberdeen tomorrow (Wednesday 4 March).

New legislation introduced in 2005 has given the people of Scotland what are considered to be some of the best countryside access rights in the world. 

These rights are conditional on individuals behaving 'responsibly' with, the onus on common sense being used to interpret what that means on the ground.

New research by the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen has focused on the challenges this legislation has brought with it.  In particular the affect it has had on how walkers and mountain bikers using the same space of countryside interact with one another.

Dr Katrina Brown, a cultural geographer at the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, who led the study, will showcase its findings at her seminar Claiming rights to rural recreational space: Scottish access legislation in practice.

Taking place as part of a series of lunchtime seminars exploring crucial rural issues, hosted by the University's Institute for Rural Research (IRR), Dr Brown will highlight the results of her survey of walkers and mountain bikers in the Cairngorms National Park. 

She will explain how the results show the need for a better mutual understanding to be created between these different groups who are using rural land for different reasons.

Dr Brown said: "Individuals using the countryside recreationally have seen two major changes in recent years.  The first change is the right of responsible access provided for by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 legislation which came into effect in 2005.  The act allows any non motorised use of transport access to almost all land and inland water in Scotland. 

"This new law places great emphasis on behaviour being 'responsible' and people using their own sense of judgement in what they do and where they are allowed to access - and this room for self interpretation has brought with it its own set of issues.

"Secondly people are using the countryside for a much more diverse range of sports and pastimes now compared to even a few years ago.  This is partly because of advances in technology - for example mountain bikers can access more remote areas of land because their bikes are better equipped to deal with tricky terrain. 

"These two factors combined can lead to tension between different groups using the countryside, and my study has focused in particular on the interaction between walkers and mountain bikers. 

"Whilst most of the time, these two groups enjoy the countryside together without dispute, issues can arise when someone feels like their experience of the countryside is being compromised because of another person.  For example a walker may feel like their "back to nature" experience is disrupted by coming into contact with a fast moving mountain bike."

Volunteers in the study wore head cameras which recorded their walk or cycle in the Cairngorms.  These videos were then used as a prompt for the volunteers when they took part in a follow up interview, where they talked through their thought process at different points of their journey and their interaction with other people.

Dr Brown continues: "Our study looked at how people stake their claim to the space they are using.  We looked at how people perceive their rights and responsibilities when enjoying the countryside and how they think this compares to the rights of other people who may also be using the same area of land.

"For example a walker on higher hills may perceive they have more right than a mountain biker to be on that space of land because it is remote, and therefore may not have been accessible to a mountain biker if it were not for the modern technology of their bike."

Those interested in taking part in the next phase of Dr Brown's research project should contact her on 01224 498200 or email

Dr Brown's seminar takes place between 1-2pm tomorrow (Wednesday 4 March) in room G15, St Mary's, Elphinstone Road, Old Aberdeen. 

The seminar is free and open to the public.  Prior registration is not required. 

For full listings of the speakers presenting during the lunchtime seminar series visit or contact David Watts ( Seminars are free and prior registration is not required. All are welcome.

The University of Aberdeen's Institute for Rural Research specialises in theoretical and applied rural research which promotes inter-disciplinary approaches to complex research and practical policy issues.