Published in: The Herald
Date: 1 May 2012
Residents and the recreation group, Ramblers Scotland, are angry that RSPB Scotland wants the 200,000 walkers, runners and cyclists who each year use the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, near Kinross, to take a detour around its nature reserve.
But, in a fierce counter-attack, the RSPB has insisted the route through the reserve proposed by Ramblers Scotland would cause "considerable damage" to one of the UK's most important areas for wintering geese and ducks. It was under a legal obligation to protect the wildlife, it said.
After prolonged negotiations, a planning application to complete the footpath around Loch Leven has been submitted to Perth and Kinross Council. At the RSPB's insistence, it follows a road skirting the outside of its reserve at Vane Farm on the loch's southern shore.
This route also takes it around two homes, whose residents have attacked the conservation body for behaving like a bad neighbour. "The RSPB is operating like a commercial company, not like a charity," said John Haynes, 51, a joiner who lives in West Newhall Cottage.
"They are showing serious dis-regard for the public by putting the path around the periphery of the reserve, not by the loch," he said. "They are dictating this and not listening to anybody else. The whole thing smacks of a Donald Trump scenario."
His neighbour, retired lecturer Alan Bell, 68, in East Newhall Cottage, said the path proposed by the RSPB would damage the reputation of Loch Leven. He accused the charity of acting like a bully landowner. He said: "It's a bit like going back to the old days when lairds owned the land and told the people what to do."
If an agreement cannot be reached, residents suggest that RSPB land could be subject to compulsory purchase to force a path through its reserve.
According to Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, the RSPB route is in the wrong place. "It is very disappointing that the RSPB is resisting a route across their land which makes the best sense from an environmental and outdoor recreation perspective and causes least disturbance to local householders," he said.
"The route proposed by Ramblers Scotland will cause minimal disturbance to wildlife and will be a superb way for people to enjoy the natural heritage of Loch Leven."
The RSPB, however, said it had been managing access at Loch Leven for 40 years and helped more than 50,000 people a year to enjoy the wildlife. There had been a "positive dialogue" about the footpath, said regional director, Martin Auld.
"It is surprising Ramblers Scotland, which purports to have the interests of our natural heritage at heart, is proposing a route that would cause considerable damage to the wildlife and conservation interest at Loch Leven," he added.
"Their proposal would also reduce the quality of the experience of those visiting the reserve, disturbing and dispersing the breeding and wintering birds."
The RSPB route, Mr Auld added, would provide "sweeping views of the loch and landscape while ensuring no damage is done". He said the RSPB reserve was the only place on the loch where thousands of migratory birds could find refuge from human disturbance. "Without this, a large part of the bird population may desert Loch Leven."
The RSPB was backed by the Government's wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). "RSPB, and other land managers, had legitimate concerns about how different routes could affect their management," said SNH's director of operations, Andrew Bachell. "It's important walkers or cyclists don't disturb the wildfowl and yet, at the same time, we want them to enjoy the wildlife in the nature reserve. The route chosen provides an excellent compromise."