MSP joins protest walk on Ledgowan Estate

BY LISA FALCONER
lisa.falconer@whfp.co.uk

The “obstructive behaviour” of Ledgowan Estate in Wester Ross is to be reported to the Land Reform Review Group.

Caithness, Ross and West SNP MSP Rob Gibson said he would be handing over information to the review group concerning the estate’s treatment of walkers, with aggressive behaviour and padlocked gates amongst the complaints to surface over the last two years.

Mr Gibson made the comments after walking on the estate last Saturday as part of a protest by people concerned at the estate’s access policy.

The walk was first proposed in the aftermath of a blog by Dr Kenneth Brown of Glenmoriston, in which he detailed an encounter with the son of Ledgowan Estate owner Andrew Simpson in October. Dr Brown and his wife were returning to their car after walking in the Achnasheen area when Richard Simpson approached them, demanding to know what they were doing “walking on his hill”, and behaving in an aggressive manner.

The creation of 18 kilometres of track on the estate for “agricultural activities” has also come under the spotlight recently and those attending the walk were also intending to look at management of the estate.
Accompaning Mr Gibson was Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Ian Cockburn. During their walk they encountered a locked gate and signs stating: “Ledgowan Estate working with the environment – do not disturb it”.

Mr Gibson said: “We met several walkers who were exercising their right of responsible access to Ledgowan land. Councillor Ian Cockburn and I walked up the hideous five-metre-wide man-made track which we took from Ledgowan steading to the bealach at 400 metres on the upper slopes of Carn Beag.
“We met around 10 walkers some of whom had dogs on the lead. We saw no sign of estate personnel. The locked gate and bizarre sign about working with the environment is highly questionable.”

He added: “This week I will file materials on Ledgowan with the Land Reform Review Group whose remit for the Scottish Government includes access laws and their application after 10 years use. I will also draw the attention of this obstructive behaviour on Ledgowan to the minister.

“Ledgowan Estate seems to have an entirely cavalier attitude to peaceful walkers exercising rights of access. It has constructed a five-metre-wide hill track around the hills without a hint of landscaping. It is said to have ignored the aims of the local deer management group and neighbouring landowners. In fact Ledgowan estate’s behaviour seems out of order on several counts. Actions are needed to fulfil responsible behaviour for an owner of over 10,000 acres of Wester Ross.”

Last Friday, meanwhile, representatives from Ledgowan Estate meet with Highland Council. The meeting was requested by the local authority in a letter to the estate at the end of October. The estate provided the council with a copy of their access policy prior to the meeting, at Highland Council’s request. During the meeting the council pointed out areas of this policy which it was felt “needed some adjustment”, a spokesperson said. No details were available.

The spokesperson continued: “The council is pleased to report that its suggestions to ensure that responsible public access and estate management practices can co-exist have been positively received by the estate. Measures to encourage access and inform the public of estate activities were discussed and are being considered by the estate.

“Dialogue between the estate and the access authority will continue to explore ways of enabling responsible access whilst respecting the operational needs of the estate. Meantime, as is the case when taking access at any sporting estate, for their own personal safety members of the public are advised to be mindful of estate activities and to follow all reasonable instructions from estate staff.”

Councillor Ian Cockburn said: “I will be seeking clarification from the access officer concerning the long time lag between the council lawyer’s letter sent to the estate and the long delay in response from a responsible person at Ledgowan. Such a time lag is unacceptable and the meeting arranged on the 29th by the estate representative and the area access officer clearly took place in the light of the impending walking protest on St Andrew’s Day.”