Celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Emma Steel ,
7 Feb 2020

Fifteen years have passed since the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) was published following implementation of Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act (2003) Act.

The 2003 Act provided Scotland with some of the most progressive access legislation in the world, where members of the public have a right of access to most land and inland water, providing these rights are exercised responsibly. The 2003 Act also placed obligations on landowners to ensure anyone wishing to exercise these access rights can reasonably do so.

While SOAC is not law, it is the reference point for guidance on responsibility, both for land managers and access takers and passages of it have been approved in court. Three basic principles underpin all the advice in the Code – respecting the interests of other people, caring for the environment and taking responsibility for your own actions. SOAC has an important and wide role in demonstrating what is responsible land management.

The issue of people taking access to land can be an emotive and practical one. Local Access Forums and the National Access Forum were established by Scottish Natural Heritage and involve a range of representatives from the land management sector, public agencies, access users and community interests. The Forums advise on any national issues linked to access rights and have provided an opportunity for all stakeholders with an interest in these issues to discuss and resolve them.

It is important to note that the majority of access takers and land managers abide by the legislation and guidance. However, where problems have arisen, these Forums have worked constructively to develop messaging and guidance on a range of topics such as: appropriate signage, irresponsible camping, commercial access, deer stalking and unauthorised mountain biking trails. Guidance continues to develop to provide both land managers and access users with advice on how to manage various access related issues.

Underpinning this guidance and advice is the ability for all stakeholders to work collaboratively, build strong relationships and communicate effectively through the National and Local Access Forums. As we celebrate the 15th Birthday of SOAC, it is essential that all access interests continue to work proactively to ensure Scotland’s progressive rights can be enjoyed and respected by all.