Programme and summary note for the NAF/LAF joint Autumn Meeting.
Joint Meeting of National Access Forum and Local Access Forums, Virtual meeting
9:50 Join the virtual meeting
10.00 Welcome, introductions and NAF Updates - NAF Convenor- Don Milton
10:15 Visitor Management Strategy
- Overview of the 2021 season and future plans (National picture - Mark Wrightham & Alan Dron).
- Local Experience from the LAFs – Open session
11:00 Comfort break – 10 mins
11:10 LAF Issues – OPEN Session to be directed by LAFs
LAFs are invited to share their main issues and ideas. Topics identified by LAFs include:
- Obstructive gates
- Council resources and impacts on access duties e.g. enforcement
- Lack of statutory consultee status for LAFs
- Parking constraints.
- Lack of national public service messaging.
- Wild camping
- Public access prevention to loch side foreshores
- Innovative measures to address problems with motorcycle use
- E- bikes
- Historic drove roads , their status and land registration.
- Under representation of the 18 n- 30 age group in access education
12.40 – 13.30 -------------- Break for Lunch ----------------
Afternoon Session: Mediation for Access
13.30 Introduction: Where the idea of using mediation for resolving public access disputes came from (Eleisha Fahy - Scotways)
13:45 What is professional mediation and how does it work (May Milward, Scottish Mediation)
14: 30 Comfort break – 10 mins
15:00 Next steps: promoting the use of mediation and the Guidance Note (Eddie Palmer Scottish Canoe Association)
15.05 Closing remarks
15:10 ----------------------------------- Close ---------------------------------------
The autumn joint NAF LAF meeting was held virtually with 49 attendees and 20 LAFs represented from across Scotland. The aim of the meeting was to provide a brief update on the Visitor Management work that had occurred nationally and to allow LAFs to share their experiences on this topic. In smaller break out groups NAF and LAF members discussed a range of topics that had been previously highlighted as being issues they wished to debate.
Mark Wrightham (NatureScot) gave an overview of the co-ordinated visitor management measures that had taken place throughout the summer of 2021 to address the visitor pressures. He explained how key bodies along with VisitScotland (Chair of the Visitor Management Strategy Group) worked together to co-ordinate action on the ground. A key strand of this action was communication; to assist the recovery of the tourist sector, to promote the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) to key audiences, to promote the beneficial effects and attract new audiences to the outdoors. Communication was targeted at new users with ‘entry level’ messages and selecting key issues e.g. parking, camping, fires, wild life disturbance and water safety. This was done through TV campaigns and press releases alongside social media including the use of on-line influencers, making it a much more extensive and well received campaign. The second strand was improved visitor infrastructure and services on the ground. Various funding schemes (Rural Tourism and Infrastructure Fund and Better Places Fund) allowed rapid action to deliver new infrastructure and additional staff on the ground, alongside additional staff and facilities on other managed sites eg NNRs, Forest Estate etc.
The experience from this summer was that visitor numbers remained very high but that most visitors behaved responsibly. There were improvements in behaviour, pressures were more manageable in more places and more of the time. However, some locations were still under severe pressure, Arisaig and the North West especially the NC 500 as well as the East Lothian coast. In terms of future priorities, he said there would be a shift to a longer term perspective as well as a focus on strategic action reflected at a local level through strategic visitor management planning. He added that transport planning was key and the need to take account of seasonal visitor needs, (parking & the volume of vehicles). Maintaining the SOAC campaigns on a partnership basis was also key, as well as the need to extend engagement with schools. There would be an ongoing need to work on infrastructure provision including a better network of facilities for campervan and more managed provision of camping with tents. Staff on the ground would remain crucial for the future and securing resources to maintain this.
Alan Dron gave an overview of the practical measures taken by Police Scotland. Their focus was on action related to motor vehicles (tackling irresponsible parking) and people management (tackling irresponsible littering & fly tipping, irresponsible toileting, antisocial behaviour, damage related to camp fires). Staff were spread across Scotland, but were particularly proactive in 6 areas; (Highland Perthshire, Cairngorms National Park, North Coast 500, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Pentland Hills Regional Park, East Lothian Coast). Changing behaviours was the key aspiration using the ‘4 E’s’ approach to; Engage, Explain, Encourage and as a last resort Enforce.
From the experience of Police Scotland the biggest difference was made by additional staff on the ground and their visibility. The joint patrols between police and rangers allowed for more engagement with visitors which resulted in significant beneficial effects on peoples’ behaviour. Another important factor in improving visitor management was found to be well maintained, clear, pertinent signage with older signage often ignored. Provision of temporary parking in some areas and the use of clearways also helped alleviate some of the irresponsible parking. Overall 2021 had been busier than ever but the co-ordinated approach taken had worked in most locations.
Issues and Feedback arising from the discussion:
- Irresponsible camping (volume of rubbish and considerable toileting) is still an issue in West Loch Lomond. Need for better dissemination of information on ‘how to wild camp responsibly’, or the introduction of a national licence scheme for informal camping although this proposal had limited support and there were concerns over the necessity for such a scheme and the ability to successfully administer and enforce it.
- The growth of paddle boarding and issues around water safety was raised. The Scottish Canoe association now has advice for paddle boarding and water related access advice on their website.
- The cumulative impact of wild campers eg 150 tents in areas with no toilet provision as experienced in East Lothian was discussed. Additional seasonal rangers helped promote responsible behaviour but it was suggested that there is still a need for a review of the code to distinguish between wild camping and car camping, and that many people travelling from England either ignore the Code or are unaware of SOAC. They also do not know where to find information to help them to plan their trip and use apps, social media or websites which contain incorrect and incomplete information.
- SOAC is primarily an education tool not an enforcement mechanism. Messages from the Code will continue to be targeted at informal campers and more explicit advice given to campers to take account of cumulative impacts. However LAFs also have a local role to assist in decisions about steering camping provision and potentially setting limits, which some Local Access Fora are doing already.
- Enforcement of bylaws requires huge investment whereas spending funds on rangers and similar to help to educate access users rather than prosecute them would be more effective.
- The need to bring back outdoor education as a practical activity not a classroom lecture to help avoid a lot of problems.
- The growth of e – bike use and the impacts on other users was raised. Research is currently underway with UK joint funding to better understand the use of off road e-bikes and help inform the management of land for the growth in e- bikes as well as helping to target messages for responsible e-bike use. The findings should be available in early 2022. Existing messages for MTB users were also thought to be relevant and perhaps applicable to E bike users.
Break out session discussions and topics raised
- Locked gates and various obstructions and the need for additional guidance for LAFs.
- Education and the importance of the school audience. The respective roles of teachers and major role for local access authorities.
- General discussion about the decrease in access officers and or their moves to other strategic roles and the impact on access advice locally.
- Increase in use of open water for recreation, safety issues and wider access issues barring access to loch sides.
- Off road motorbikes, not a consistent issue but need to find alternative land to promote this activity.
- Parking constraints increasing in some areas and needs to be addressed to prevent knock on effects on ability to take access.
- NPF4 consultation could be an opportunity to raise issues about public access in relation to planning permission and also the opportunity for LAFs to become statutory consultees. A number of planning cases where insufficient account was taken of core paths were discussed and the knock on effects of access restrictions.
- The use of Strava heat maps to help prove access usage was highlighted.
- Locked gates; some police are advising that they should be locked to reduce rural crime but this has access implications. This could be raised at local SPARCs groups by LAFs. Police Scotland is producing a booklet on rural and wildlife crime.
- Cumulative impacts of access over time and the damage caused to path infrastructure and the environment. How different people perceive cumulative impacts and decide when somewhere is too busy, it varies and needs to be planned and explained locally.
- The value of seasonal rangers and the need to keep up the momentum on resources for on-going employment.
- The increase of paddleboards and the impacts on wildlife and the environment need to be assessed.
- The importance of national advertising and wider promotion of SOAC including in formal education required.
- More resources to encourage responsible behaviour in the 18 – 38 group are needed.
- There is a lack of resources for enforcement, therefore encouraging responsible behaviour is a more positive and successful way to manage visitors.
- Educational resources to explain wider social responsibilities (as well as public access responsibilities) are required for landowners who have newly taken over an estate.
- Some support was expressed for a minor review of SOAC, adding in new activities as some messages are too optional.
- Frustrations around wild camping and the lack of sites for tents in comparison to England. Opportunities for landowners to provide more pop up campsites in the summer.
- Discussion around a review of SOAC and a strengthening of the legislation.
- Resources for LAFs and a need to reinvigorate them. Need to help LAF have a more defined role.
- Issues around local authority resources and the knock on effects on access duties.
- Forestry issues and paths
- Loch side access issues in new developments, new owners closing off access routes.
- Drove roads
- Mapping Scotland’s paths debate between farmers and Ramblers Scotland.
- The need for education and training for LAFs members? What type
The Convenor closed the morning session thanking everyone for their contributions adding that the items raised in discussion would help inform future work of the NAF, visitor management, work on SOAC messaging and communication.
Mediation – afternoon session
Eddie Palmer, (Scottish Canoe Association) and Eleisha Fahy, (ScotWays) outlined the background to the National Access Forum’s work on mediation. They highlighted the importance of mediation as an alternative for dispute resolution for stalled access cases. A NAF guidance note on ‘the Use of mediation for access’ was published in November 2020 and is available on the SOAC website: https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/guidance-note-use-mediation-access. The aim is to continue to promote the use of the guidance note and to build mediation skills within the access sector including the use of professional mediators where relevant.
May Millward – Project Officer with Scottish Mediation
May gave a presentation on the use of mediation skills for access professionals and why a different approach might be helpful in some cases. She highlighted why the use of a third party could help to identify mutually agreeable solutions. She explained that mediators need quite specific skills. However she said it was important to try to avoid issues arising in the first place, i.e. talking to people about things other than access as, the more you know someone the more likely they are to come to you with access issues early and the easier they are to resolve. She said that often anger, frustration, and not listening, gets in the way of dealing with issues. However the biggest barrier is that both parties need to want to engage. In mediation other barriers include entrenched ways, people who think they are right, as well as fear of the unknown. The overall goal is to get people to agree by focusing on the future, and helping them to identify the alternatives to the current situation. With mediation there is little to lose as it is successful in 80 % of cases so it is worth asking people if they are ‘willing to try’ mediation.
Steps to successful mediation
- Setting ground rules, (confidentiality is very important, impartial mediators, respect),
- Allowing for un-interrupted speaking,
- Discussion facilitated by a mediator draws out the impacts and the outcomes.
- Asking questions about the past reinforces entrenchment. Instead talking about the impacts, brings it into the present. The mediator shifts the focus to the future and the outcomes that each party wishes to achieve.
- Mediator will identify basic needs that are not being met. If these needs are not met conflict remains.
- Mediators use ‘reframing’ to help break down negative behaviours and help each side understand another perspective.
- Mediators set out the issues and tackle one at a time. They help the parties resolve things by themselves as the solutions must address underlying interests and needs.
- Part of the agreement covers who can be told about what and also what might happen in the future.
- Mediation is confidential and puts people involved in control of the outcome, more quickly.
In the ‘Questions and Answer’ session interest was expressed from a number of LAFs about further mediation skills training sessions for their members. There was discussion about the importance of engaging on the spot with people to encourage responsible access and the need to raise awareness locally (in schools, with the community council etc). There was an understanding that access cases are often not really about access but about other things and it was important to identify these underlying needs and issues and get to the bottom of the matter. There was also recognition that professional mediation is only part of the whole picture and doesn’t replace education or boots on the ground but never the less is an additional useful tool for helping resolve difficult or stalled access cases.