Minutes of meeting of Caithness Local Access Forum (CLAF)
Held in the Mowat Room, Assembly Rooms, Wick
on Tuesday 17th August 2010




Chris Hobson (CH) – Land Manager/Access User
Graeme Smith (GS) – Wick Ward Councillor and Member of Highland Council
Mrs Elena Koponen-Baikie (EK-B) – Community Groups
Mrs Cath Whittles (CW) – Access Taker/User
Stephen Fraser (SF) – Land owner, access facilitator/developer, Forestry Commission (6.30 – 7.30)


In attendance


David Barclay (DB) – Planner/Caithness Access Officer, Highland Council
Dieter Tuerlinckx (DT) – Countryside East Ranger, Highland Council.
Fiona McInally (FM) – Paths for All


Alex Macmanus (AM) – Ward Managers Team, Highland Council (clerk)


Newton Croft walk.


In attendance


David Barclay, Elena Koponen-Baikie, Dieter Tuerlinckx, Chris Hobson &
Stephen Fraser (arrived latterly)


Report submitted by David Barclay, Planner/Caithness Access Officer
The above named met on site walked to the pond, walked around buildings.
Discussions centred upon initial proposals for the site – the concept of changing a semi derelict croft holding into a community woodland. Comment made about the purchase of the site by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) as a Woodland Around Towns Initiative. Some comparisons drawn with the FCS acquisition at Sibster by Halkirk.


Visit to the pond as an introduction to the nature/character of the land holding. Pond is being envisaged as one of the first small projects on the site with interest from the Highland Council Ranger Service as a catalyst project to create an area suitable for youth groups/school visits etc for pond dipping. The pond and the immediate surrounding area has been subject to some tidying up by the Friends of Newtonhill Group. This group has undertaken several days of site clearance works with two large skips supplied by the Highland Council being filled with assorted detritus from around the pond and croft buildings.


Tree planting and path creation works discussed in general. It is envisaged that a mixture of open and wooded areas will be created on the site with the retention of much of the heather moor land. An open grassland area adjacent to the buildings appears to be desirable to stage outdoor activities and potentially provide a site for uniformed groups etc to camp. The creation of a car park in the far north east corner of the site has been proposed as being the nearest point to Wick and to reduce the temptation of vandalism to the buildings on site – currently vehicular access to the site is centred on the croft buildings.
On walking around the buildings there was considerable discussion as to their future use. Certain buildings on site are unlikely to be retained as they are at the end of their serviceable life whilst the use and purpose of others is the topic of ongoing discussion. The large sheds appear to be likely to be retained for land management purposes whilst the future of the actual croft house is likely to be the subject of consultation.


This consultation to gauge whether there is either an appetite or a need for a basic shelter on site to aid the use of the site by organised groups, school visits etc. Considerable uncertainty surrounds this issue and it is hoped that in future public consultation, likely to be undertaken by FCS, this could be a subject for consideration. No matter the current financial climate the site and buildings requires consideration into the longer term.

The site visit concluded positively with those attending agreeing that the site should be considered as a huge opportunity to safeguard and promote a fully publicly accessible countryside resource within easy reach of Wick. This is particularly important owing to the closure of the adjacent Newtonhill Community Woodland. It was also felt that the hard work of the FCS and Friends of Newtonhill Group should be recognised for their endeavours in tidying up the site and laying the ground work for future public consultation and increased usage of the site.


1. Apologies

William Bruce – Access Taker/User
George Walker – Land Owner
Geoff Robson – Head of Environment and Development, Highland Council
Tom Kellett – Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
Stephen Fraser – apologies for 7.30pm meeting but attended walk.


The Chair welcomed Fiona McInally from Paths for All to her first meeting of the CLAF and appropriate introductions were made by all in attendance

2. Notes and Action Points from 25th May meeting

Notes agreed.


Matters arising


CH to make available news story surrounding maps produced of St John’s Point rail line to Orkney.


No action taken re Disability Group. FM understood that there were no groups north of the Black Isle.

3. SNH booklet – ‘Paths-linking people, places and nature’

As TK was unable to attend meeting it was decided to defer this item until next meeting. Forum members should peruse this booklet and be prepared to discuss at next meeting on 26th October.

4. Consultation on the legal framework for level crossings.

Found here - http://www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/news/level-crossings/


Comments require to be submitted by 30th November 2010. Altnabreac will be this LAFs biggest concern in respect of non vehicular crossing. Cyclists and horse riders effect this route as the only internal Caithness to Sutherland cross boundary one.
Correspondence about the consultation will be sent out to members for discussion at the next meeting on 26th October.


Access Officer gave a short history of this crossing and asked that organisations should make comments about the consultation as it affects them.


Previous comments were made during the core paths consultation and challenges at that time were made to Rail Track. Comments now would be being made to Network Rail.

5. Core Path Plan

This is still ongoing and still with the Scottish Government. Neighbouring Local Authorities have been looking at mutual core paths differently. E.g. the River Spey and its access and egress points.


Access Officer has had little or no contact about core paths. Not many land owners had responded with negative feedback.

6. Forum members business

DT – Bikes are having to be lifted over gates at Braemore/Langwell with key being available from Gamekeeper – this is looked as being a best practice. There is no easy answer to this. ‘Beware of’ signs should not be there and are a recurring problem. Snapped gates have been offered. DB would raise this issue again with the Factor


Braemore is looked on as being a prime area by the Estate. An interpretation panel at the car park has been suggested along with the key for access through the gates. Estate has had problems in the past with access been taken by scrabbling bikes and poachers


Signs are outdated and now require regular contact with the Gamekeeper. Unsure if the hill phone system is usable.


DB would make contact with Anson on change of Estate owner/family. Suggested that he be invited to a CLAF meeting.


FM advised that the SNH website is running a pilot with 20 Estates entitled ‘Head to the Hills’


DT is trying to get land mangers involved with school pupils and DB suggested that he should also try to involve Forestry Commission and RSPB at Broubster and Dorrery Mains.

7. National Access Forum (NAF) Issues

Looking for a two way flow of information. NAF looking at rural issues. NAF/LAF meeting now in Falkirk on Wednesday 13th October and is open to Forum members.

8. Access Officers Report

Have had 3 enquiries from Land Managers over LEADER/SRDP funding. Walk at Geise is a good example of what can be done by private individuals.


Caithness Riders Access group have enquired about a horse gate at Bower which would increase accessibility. This is now waiting to be collected.


Land water guidance has been issued and Officer would like to be in a position to look at this at next CLAF meeting.


The John O’Groats path to the East has reached an impasse with neighbouring land owner. The status quo will remain at this time.


Access Officer has been seconded to Planning Service but will attend to Core Paths work as and when required.

9. AOB

Disability Access representation on Forum – Name suggested as Fiona Henderson who works for CVG in Wick. Make contact with her. ACTION.


L.R.S.A. Post Legislative Scrutiny – Dr Callum Macleod has spoken to a few members of the Forum concerning this project.


Funding Core Paths Scheme – A number of good applications had been received from 4 of the local Community Councils. (Latheron, Tannach, Berriedale & Dunnet). Access Officer advises that although budget for this year is used up applications should still be submitted.


Forum Membership – Councillor Graeme Smith, who has been a Council member of the CLAF since inception, has now tendered his resignation as a Highland Council member. As not being a member of the administration group he no longer feels that he can represent the Highland Council. The Highland Council will be advised and a request for a replacement member be asked for.


The Chair thanked Graeme for all his input over the past number of years and looked forward to perhaps welcoming him back as a Community Group member.


Forum Membership – It is believed that at the last meeting of CLAF Willie Beattie, Forestry Commission advised that he would not be attending any further meetings due to work commitments.


Forum Membership – Drew McFarlane-Slack MBE would also be asked if he wished to continue on the Forum and to receive e-mailings.


Fiona Sinclair Secondment – Mrs Sinclair has now returned to her Council post following her secondment and a period of maternity leave. She has indicated that she would now be unable to return to clerk the CLAF. Alex Macmanus has confirmed that he is happy enough to continue with the clerking duties.


It is felt that a letter to Fiona from the CLAF thanking her for all her services should be written.

10. DONM

Tuesday 26th October 2010 in Ross Institute, Halkirk at  7.30 pm. It was hoped to have the Police Wildlife Officer in attendance. Next meeting after that would be on 14th December 2010. Suggested that a speaker from Planning Services attends with case studies from members. However if amount of business is light this meeting may be cancelled.