Minutes of meeting of the Caithness Local Access Forum
held in the Ross Institute, Halkirk
on Monday, 8th December 2008




William Bruce (WB) (Chairperson) – Access Taker/User
David Shaw (DS), Scottish National Heritage – Agency
George Walker (GW) – Land Owner/Manager
Mrs Cath. Whittles (CW) – Access Taker/User
David Hall (DH) – Access Taker/User
Graeme Smith (GS), Wick Ward – Local Authority Member
David Bremner (DB), Landward Ward – Local Authority Member


In Attendance


David Barclay (DBA), Access Officer – Highland Council
Dieter Tuerlinckx (DT), Countryside Ranger – Highland Council
Alex Macmanus (AM), Ward Manager’s Team – Highland Council (clerk)


1. Apologies


Robert Coghill (RG) – Land Owner/Manager
Mary Legg (ML), Countryside Ranger – Highland Council
Geoff Robson (GR), Head of Environment – Highland Council
Mrs Elena Koponen-Baikie (EK-B) – Community Groups


Alex Macmanus was introduced to Group who was taking over the clerking duties from Fiona Sinclair during her period of secondment.


2. Minutes and Action points from meeting of 6th October 2008

Members agreed minutes of 6th October which had been circulated prior to meeting.
It was agreed that if Chairperson and Access Officer agree draft minutes prior to full meeting they could then be posted onto Council internet site clearly marked ‘draft only’. After ratification at relevant meeting ‘draft only’ notice could be removed. A list of Action Points would be circulated separately to all members.

2a Matters arising from 6th October 2008

Altnabreac – No change in stance from Network Rail regarding their objection to the inclusion of the Altnabreac crossing in their Caithness Core Paths Plan. Please refer to Access Officers report summary.


SNH Posters – Posters had now been e-mailed out to all members by David Shaw. Training course available now. Issue to be raised with Stephen Fraser and Mrs Koponen-Baikie for disseminating to Youth Groups.         ACTION – WB


Castle of Oldwick Path – M.O.D. has been contacted and is relaxed over the access issue. No objection to Core Path designation either via the coast or inland from the cemetery with the proviso that current safety measurers are respected i.e. when in use the area of the range is closed to all members of the public.


3. Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) (Carol Gunn) – John O’ Groats Area


Carol gave a short presentation on the work being carried out by HIE at John O’Groats.
Core Path along shoreline was a good path until high tides washed away the section at the caravan site. If this section was replaced the same outcome would occur.


In October 2008 two representatives from the Tourist Industry visited John O’Groats. Ideally look at encouraging more tourists to spend more time in ‘Groats. Idea raised of a viewing platform being installed on path like that at Wick riverside.


The Local Access Forum is interested in supporting moves to provide a good quality path in the area of the shore which would not be subject to erosion from the sea. It was noted that no funds are allocated to any such proposals by Highland Council.


Consultation carried out by HIE to gauge John O’Groats priorities. Other HIE surveys show evidence to support an interest in walking by prospective tourists. (A handout was supplied by Carol)


The Caravan and Camp site owner at John O’Groats is very wary of folk impinging on his site and disturbing his customers. DH had spoken to him only last week.


A High Water Mark path is impractical because of costs and concerns over sustainability. Question asked on how the caravan and camp site owner perceives the path in relation to his business. It was thought that to bypass the site along the road would make the path overly circuitous.


The ideal lead into the path was from the Last House car park. The LAF were supportive of a revised route following the shore if at all possible.


The Chairperson of the local Community Council and the John O’Groats Promotional Group, John Green, had done a lot of fund raising in the past for this path. GS believed that the path could not put in again with the public £ if there is the danger that it will keep getting washed away.


Owing to likely path users and proximity to a major tourist attraction the path has to be to a relevant all-abilities standard. The path could perhaps be screened from the Caravan and Camp site but perhaps advice from John Green should be sought first.


HIE are drawing up a physical master plan for John O’Groats for access to shop units, car parks, etc. This will be going out to tender in January 2009. There could be potential for community benefit in any planning obligations and perhaps the path could be a project.


Landward Ward members have had no issues raised by constituents over the present state of the path. Signage would need to be looked at as regards issues over public liability and the fact that users use the path at their own risk.


WB advised that there were shell beaches which could be reached via the village road but would need better signage and also the gravel track is bad with potholes.


Thanks were given to Carol for her attendance and input to meeting
                                                          ACTION – WB TO TALK TO JOHN GREEN



4. Members business

CW – Concerned that access rights may be lost after the sale of forests. Under legislation of Access Rights they require to be left open. Any change of use e.g. paintballing, would require to go through the planning process and would be identified if access rights were being compromised.


DB – Concern that the trail gates at Yarrows are being left open resulting in the livestock of the new tenant wandering. DT had spoken already about installing kissing gates. Believed now that the issues over Yarrows need to be discussed around a table to find acceptable solutions to all parties.


Ward Manager (David Sutherland) has been requested to organise a meeting in early January 2009. A plan to manage Yarrows requires to be drawn up as there are many grey areas along with a lot of goodwill. Recently monies from an agricultural grant scheme are believed to have been allocated to an area of the Trail in the form of a land management payment. This would preclude funding from other government bodies or agencies owing to double funding issues.


If parts of the trail are out with this scheme, or if the scheme has now lapsed, SNH may also have low cost grants to assist with gates. In the meantime DBA will arrange to have small signs fixed to the gates.
                                                   ACTION – DBA                                ACTION – AM


DB – Road safety for pedestrians along the A99 in the vicinity of Lybster is of concern – raised as a result of other path issues in the Lybster area. Improved roadside path provision is advocated at the top of Lybster linking into circular paths around north and south sides of village.


Road is considered one of the most dangerous in the UK according to statistics from groups such as the AA. Access Officer would make contact with Transerv Scotland.

                                                                                                             ACTION – DBA


GS – Monuments in the County are being degraded by irresponsible access but believed that this was a minority group that was causing this. There is a balance to be struck.  SNH posters to be put on display. Case of vandalism being done at the Whalligoe steps last year.


WB – Talked to his previously circulated LAF Seminar notes from the meeting in Stirling on 22nd November 2008


The issue over the taking of photographs was noted by SRPBA whose Access Officer reported as follows –


“ The only thing I'd clarify is that there is no problem with gamekeepers, ghillies, land managers, etc photographing children, accompanied by adults or not, if the intention is to log levels of access rather than use the photos for immoral purposes!


 A member of ours investigated this with Lothian and Borders Police and it was discussed at the last NAF.  You do need to be careful, even if your purposes are innocent, not to photograph children in such a way as to show them in what could be construed as provocative poses or if the outline of their body under their clothes is particularly visible.  However, most kids out-of-doors in Scotland are well wrapped up so their is little or no issue.

This issue actually arose because a ghillie on the Tay has been keeping a photographic record of the numbers of canoes, rafts, kayaks, etc which come down his beats each day.  His intentions are purely to show the cumulative impact of so many craft on angling interests”


The Ranger Service runs puppet shows for primary schools to help educate them to the access codes. This Service is also looking at arranging talks to teenage groups from farmers and gamekeepers.


It would be useful if the Chair and Access Officer were kept advised of any such meetings.


5. Access Officer’s Report.


a. Core Paths


This remains as per the last Access Forum meeting on 6th October 2008.  A letter outlining the issue and requesting comment regarding the route between Altnabreac and Forsinard has been sent to the Halkirk Community Council, owing to the objection by Network Rail.


A letter has also been sent to Network Rail, together with the précis of the site meeting held on 24th September 2008, which was discussed at the last Access Forum meeting.


In addition to this issues were raised querying the historical nature of the crossing point, continuing use by the general public, continued self-management of health & safety and whether this is legitimate or not and whether or not the crossing is included as a component part of a core path.


The final issue was the wider interest and issues of the peatlands as per the Peatlands Partnership letter that was reviewed by the Access Forum at an earlier meeting.


b. Highland Access Strategy


The revised and updated version of the Strategy is undergoing proof reading. This will be produced in advance of the submission to Ministers of the Core Paths Plans for the Highland Council Area. DBA would ensure Access Forum Members receive a copy.
                                                                                                            ACTION –DBA

c. Victoria Walk, Thurso


Officer has taken advice from Council’s Legal and Risk Departments. Signs will now be going in place. Members were asked to note the pictorial nature and reflective finish. Cycling was not advisable due to the nature of the path. No gates were going to be installed just yet until the success or not of the signs are evaluated.


d. Right of Way dispute Harden Farm, Wick


Title issues remain unsettled as to ownership of the road. No formal response to letter sent to Solicitor in October 2008 has been received. A resultant telephone conversation noted position that the Title situation remains unresolved but may become clearer after Christmas 2008.


e. National Access Forum minutes


These are distributed by e-mail. Officer will ensure Access Forum Members received a copy directly.                                                                                    ACTION – DBA


f. Scotways


Officer handed out a copy of an item from ScotWays Annual Report 2008 regarding the identification of Heritage Paths. They are actively seeking help from the general public and a dedicated website will be launched in the New Year. ScotWays Project Officer on this is Neil Ramsay (Telephone 0131 558 1222) (E-mail info@scotways.com) (www.scotways.com )


g. John O’Groats letter.


Discussed previous.


h. Mr & Mrs Miller, Geise.


Mr & Mrs Miller had been sent a letter of support from Access Forum over their path network. Local Councillors had also written to the Miller’s expressing their full support for what they had achieved to date.  


6. AOB


Peter Blackwood and Ken Butler have resigned from the LAF. Geoff Robson is supportive of the CLAF remaining separate from Sutherland. Now look in County for replacements for the two resignations                                       ACTION – WB & AM


Review and evaluate what the LAF has done in the past 5 years. Put this on hold in meantime


In the HIE statistics produced by Carol Gunn access was high for the tourism group. Other groups need to be briefed on LAF so that they are all working together for common benefit.


7. Dates of meetings in 2009


Suggested now that they take place every two months as the Core Path Plans would need a regular review. Dates would still be on a Monday night from 7.00pm to 9.00pm but dependant on any site visits with venues still to be fixed Also preferable if these meetings did not clash with the Wick or Landward Ward Forum meetings.


Suggested dates


16th March 2009
May 2009
August 2009
October 2009
December 2009