Information and Advisory Note Number 1 Back to menu
1. The coastline of Scotland is a hugely popular recreational destination catering for all sectors of the population and providing enjoyment at all levels from informal outdoor recreation to great physical challenge. SNH recognises the importance of this recreational resource and the positive opportunities it provides. At the same time, however, there is often a need for appropriate management to reduce conflict between different users and to ensure recreation is carried out in a responsible and environmentally sensitive way.
2.1 On average over 1 million day trips are made to the Scottish coast each month, with 50% of these visits being to the undeveloped areas (i.e. without facilities provided). Seasonal variations in the use of the coast are more marked than for other countryside areas. The coast as a recreational resource appeals to a wide cross section of society, but is a particularly popular destination for families.
2.2 Informal activities to be found on many beaches and dune systems throughout the summer months include: walking, dog walking, beach sports (volleyball, cricket, football, etc.), picnicking, barbecues, fires, camping, kite flying. Little information is available on the scale of such informal and unorganised use of the coast by individuals and families, but it seems clear that an increase in this type of use will bring a greater need for car parking, toilets and litter disposal facilities, and provision for access -often through more fragile dunes or machair -to the beach itself. This type of activity can lead to loss of the habitat or damage of vegetation winch, often in conjunction with wind action, can lead to significant erosion.
2.3 Horse riding, pony trekking, dog walking, and pursuits such as cycling and mountain biking, use of trial bikes, ATVs (All Terrain vehicles), quad bikes (or 'buggies') are among activities at present causing disturbance and damage at several locations around the coast.
The scale of activity necessary to cause significant damage or disturbance is related to local conditions and season, but sand-dune systems, salt marsh, coastal heathland and shingle-bank nesting sites are particularly vulnerable to this sort of activity.
2.4 Erosion of sand dunes, either due to recreation in the dunes themselves, or to use of the dunes as an access route to the beach, is particularly serious where the vegetation of the dune ridge has been breached, or where the dune front has been destabilised.
Damage to the vegetation at these points can rapidly lead to blowouts and massive sand losses and must be dealt with promptly.
2.5 Beach use, bird watching and general trampling by walkers can lead to deep paths developing along dune ridges. These can be further aggravated by wheeled vehicles (bikes, etc.) following the same routes, and may result in lines of weakness and eventual collapse. The greatest damage on machair and dunes is caused by the tearing of the vegetation mat or marram network by wheeled vehicles. These are often heavy and fast-moving, with studded gripping tyres. Most damage is caused during skids, tight turns and wheelspinning, and when the vehicle has to pull itself out of a hole. There is also a tendency for operators to run the vehicles up a dune face as far as possible without stalling or falling backward! Damage caused by these activities is often of a type and scale that will take many seasons to recover, and every attempt must be made to restrict them to the more durable and non-vegetated beach areas.
2.6 Many activities, ranging from wildfowling to flying model aircraft and clay pigeon shooting, and from walking to cliff and stack climbing, take place on an individual basis, require no facilities, and are difficult to quantify. But there is evidence for disturbance to rafts of seabirds in the Dornoch Firth by model aircraft and clay pigeon shooting; and conflicts between wildfowlers and other interests have occurred m many areas around the coast
2.7 Walking and hiking are at present largely informal activities in most coastal areas. However, several official or recommended coastal paths have been created, e.g. Fife Coastal Path and Berwickshire Coastal Path. Other Regional Councils are also considering the potential for coastal paths.
2.8 Field studies, ranging from birdwatching and general natural history, to botany and archaeology are being pursued increasingly by individuals, clubs and by commercial operators, and affect most types of coastal habitat to some extent.
2.9 Golf courses, camping and caravan sites are popular uses of links, machair or rear-dune areas around the coast, and are commonly attended by car-park, clubhouse and other amenities. Increased demand for such facilities is being experienced in some coastal areas.
2.10 Bait digging (for angling), beachcombing and small scale local seafood harvesting are among semi-recreational -often 'traditional' - pursuits to be found at locations around the Scottish coast.
3.1 The Scottish Leisure Day Trips Survey carried out by Countryside Commission for Scotland in 1990 indicates the increasing importance of the coast and its associated activities in Scotland in recent years. A recent survey by Ross and Cromarty District Council (1989) revealed that 65% of visitors came to the area specifically for its beaches and seashores.
3.2 The principle trend over the past decade has been an increase in active forms of recreation, and a significant growth in the
popularity of outdoor pursuits. In addition, the development of better outdoor equipment and clothing, growth in the popularity of 'second holidays' and policies aimed at encouraging off-peak visitors, mean that recreational use of the coast will take place over a lengthening season. In a paper given to the Rural Forum 'Coast' Conference (Walker 1993) it was predicted that recreational
pressures on the coast will tend to result from the changing nature of the activities rather than their scale.
3.3 Reports from coastal sites around the country point to the growing
popularity of 'mechanical' recreation on coastal habitats, ranging from mountain
bikes to motorised ATVs. Four-wheeled 'quad' bikes (also known as 'buggies') are
becoming particularly popular. These are a worrying development since they can
travel to remote areas, over rough and perhaps fragile habitats, and can cause
very serious erosion damage, and considerable disturbance during sensitive
3.4 Rangers and Wardens having to deal with this problem have suggested that the best place to inform and educate users, or to place notices, is at car park sites used for off-loading the ATVs from trailers. Problems have been reported from sites in which the Rangers themselves use this sort of vehicle for work, thus inadvertently encouraging other users onto the site.
4 1 Many organisations, agencies and Government Departments are concerned and
involved with marine and coastal issues, a situation which at times leads to
confusion and misunderstanding. It is often best procedure to contact the most
local contacts first (Local Authorities, clubs, associations, Area Offices
etc.), and then national bodies and Government Departments as necessary. When
making contact with regulatory authorities, it is useful to understand how far
offshore their respective remits extend. For example, Local Authorities
responsibility m the marine environment vanes from area to area, depending on
factors such as the vicinity of a major port or harbour.
4.2 The national bodies listed below are all in some way concerned with the coast and will also be able to give information on local representatives and contacts in your area.
SCOTTISH SPORTS COUNCIL Caledonia House, South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9DU (Tel. 0131317 7200) - National agency with a statutory duty to promote the development of organised sport amongst the general public, and to foster provision of facilities.
SCOTTISH COUNTRYSIDE ACTIVITIES COUNCIL (SCAC) 7 Lawson Avenue, Banchory, Kincardineshire, AB313TW (Tel. 01330 823145) - Represents agreed interests in the use of the countryside for leisure activities to appropriate agencies and authorities; reconciles conflicting interests; gathers information on the use of the countryside, and promotes understanding of these activities
SCOTTISH TOURIST BOARD 23 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh, EH4 3EU (Tel. 0131 332 2433) - Promotes tourism in general through marketing in Britain and abroad. Encourages development of high quality tourist attractions and co-ordinates tourist's interests within Scotland. Area tourist boards, with local offices in most areas.
SCOTTISH YOUTH HOSTELS ASSOCIATION (SYHA)
7 Glebe Crescent, Stirling, FK8 2JA (Tel. 01786 451181) - Promotes its own holidays and outdoor activities including golf, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, pony trekking, cycling, etc. Will give information on local hostels, wardens and seasons. (These often have useful local notice boards.)
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF OUTDOOR EDUCATION (SCOTLAND) Loaningdale House, Carwood Road, Biggar, Lanarkshire ML 12 6LX - Policy making body; promotes outdoor education m the broadest sense. Often at the foremost of innovations in outdoor education. Currently involved in the development of adventure programmes with youth groups and schools.
KEEP SCOTLAND BEAUTIFUL Cathedral Square, Dunblane, Perthshire FK15 OAQ (Tel. 01786 823202) - Scottish arm of the Tidy Britain Group. Campaigns to eliminate litter by heightening awareness and changing people's attitudes. Provides information on Monitoring Local Authority Performance, and on Shoreline Litter Collections and Surveys
MARINE CONSERVATION SOCIETY (MCS) 9 Gloucester Road, Ross-on-Wye, HR9 5BU (Tel. 01989 66017) - National voluntary organisation concerned with all aspects of the conservation of marine life and habitats, including coastal concerns. Publishes the Heinz Good Beach Guide to beaches in UK.
BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR SHOOTING AND CONSERVATION (BASC) Scottish Centre, Trochry, by Dunkeld, Perthshire PH8 0DY. Alastair MacGougan, Conservation and Training Officer (Tel. 01350 723226) - Source for information on Wildfowling, and for addresses of local wildfowling clubs and associations.
Leisure and Recreation Department, Planning Department, Countryside Ranger Services, etc.
SCOTTISH OFFICE ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT
New St Andrews House, Edinburgh EH13TG (Tel. 0131 244 4042) - Trade and effluent discharge; coast protection and flood prevention; advice on pier and harbour works; radioactive waste discharge and monitoring Responsible for government policy on Town and Country Planning, countryside conservation, rural policy coordination and environmental protection.
CROWN ESTATE COMMISSIONERS 10 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4DR (Tel. 0131 226 7241) - As well as the foreshore, has responsibility for virtually all the seabed, from below MLWS to the limit of territorial waters.
SCOTTISH OFFICE AGRICULTURAL AND FISHERIES DEPARTMENT (SOAFD) Pentland House, 47 Robbs Loan, Edinburgh EH141TW (Tel. 0131244 6203) - Concern with countryside and marine activities where they impinge upon agriculture and fisheries; also with removal of aggregates, e g. sand or shingle from beaches.
4 3.1 Despite the designation of many coastal sites as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) it is difficult to control 'Potentially Damaging Operations' on an individual site when the activity is carried out by someone other than the owner or legal occupier. This is often the case with recreational activities Coastal SSSIs extend only to low water springs tide levels in Scotland.
4 3.2 Designation of Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) and National Nature Reserves (NNRs) may enable the creation of by-laws to assist with management and the regulation of recreational pursuits in coastal areas.
4.3.3 Public access to the countryside in Scotland has developed over several centuries and has been influenced by common law, legislation and age-old tradition. As regards the coast, the public have a right of recreation on the foreshore (beaches between the high and low water marks of ordinary spring tides) To enjoy this right the public must have a legitimate means of access (such as a public right of way) to the foreshore. The common law of nuisance and byelaws can be used to regulate recreational use if necessary.
4.3 4 An access agreement can create a right of access to the land concerned through voluntary agreement between the landowner and an appropriate authority (such as SNH, planning authority or regional council). The Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 covers the creation, implementation and operation of access agreements and the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 provides SNH with the power to enter into such agreements. SNH also has a duty to consult with planning authorities and representatives of owners and occupiers of land on the need or otherwise for access agreements. Where an agreement is not achievable, the planning authority or SNH can make an access order subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State for Scotland although this power has never been used.
4.3.5 The Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967, as amended by the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991, also provides SNH and planning authorities with the power to enter into management agreements. SNH can use such agreements to secure the conservation and enhancement of Scotland's natural heritage and/or to foster the understanding and enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage Planning authorities can use them to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the countryside and/or to promote the enjoyment of the countryside by the public
4 4 1 The EC is developing an increasing role in instigating environmental legislation by the adoption of Directives which are binding m member states (although these can only be implemented through national legislation) Recent Directives have covered protection of birds and habitats; and Environmental Assessment (EA) legislation, requiring EAs to be conducted on all major developments likely to have a 'significant' effect upon the environment.
4 4.2 The EC Birds Directive - requires the designation of Special Protection Areas These are implemented under the SSSI system in the UK, as are sites designated under the RAMSAR convention on wetlands of international importance.
4.4 3 The EC Habitats and Species Directive requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation. These will give special protection to important habitat types of European importance, including marine habitats and coastal habitats (dunes, saltmarsh, sea cliffs, shingle). Together Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation will form part of the Natura 2000 network which will extend throughout the European Community.
5.1 Litter is an unsightly, and often dangerous problem on many Scottish beaches.
5.1.1 Following the dropping of Gairloch from the 1993 Heinz Good Beach Guide (MCS) Ross and Cromarty District Council launched its Better Beaches Campaign - designed to improve litter problems on 36 beaches by encouraging local community action It employed a local 'Beach Officer', improved access paths and installed wheelie bins at the busiest harbours and beach areas to encourage boat users to dispose of rubbish properly. For further information contact Ross and Cromarty District Council. Tel. 01349 969440.
5 1.2 Yearly beach litter clean-ups by volunteers - 'Da Voar Redd Up* - are organised on Shetland by the Shetland Amenity Trust-Contact Nick Nickerson on 01595 4688.
5 1.3 For information on litter surveys and recording contact Dr Tim Dixon. Keen Scotland Beautiful. Tel, 01796 923202 or
Marine Conservation Society. 01989 66017.
5.2 Wheeled vehicles, including caravans, can cause serious rutting and damage to machair grassland, which is soon aggravated by wind and weather. At Traigh na Berie on Lewis an informal caravan site has developed over many years. It is easily accessible, and with up to 90 caravans and associated cars using it, the machair has suffered considerable damage. After extensive discussions between SNH local staff, grazings committees and local authorities, it is now hoped to provide a more formal site for about 30 caravans and to make a charge for its use, which will help fund site maintenance and management. Car access will be restricted.
For information contact Local SNH staff on 01951 704900,
5.3 Informal camping and caravanning in fragile coastal areas is a problem often compounded by the difficulty of disseminating local environmental and interpretative information. On Shetland the 'Camping Bod' network has combined sensitive renovation of historic buildings of local heritage value, with cheap accommodation. These avoid the need for new developments and facilities, and provide focal points for local interpretative and 'suggested route' messages.
For information contact Shetland Amenity Trust-Tel. 01595 4688.
5.4 Sand dune systems and machair land, subject in many areas to assaults of weatherand tide, are particularly vulnerable to erosion following physical damage by fires, wheeled vehicles, overgrazing or trampling. Over the years considerable expertise has been developed m the maintenance, protection and repair of fragile sand systems, and in working with other interested parties to ensure their conservation. Techniques such as regrading, replanting, mulching, thatching and the use of sand-trapping fences are now well developed, and patterns in human use of sand dunes are becoming better understood.
5.4.1 Locations such as Oldshoremore in Sutherland, Gruinard Bay and Gairloch m Ross
Cromarty, Calgary Bay on Mull, or Gullane Beach in East Lothian have seen important developments over the years. Contact SNH area staff for information.
5.4.2 At Gairloch and Gruinard, and also at Oldshoremore and Achmelvich beaches, repairs to the dunes has been done in conjunction with access restriction by fencing, and information notices. Contact Jo Hunt. 0144 584 244 or Alex Scott. 01854 86 234.
5.5 Wildfowling is an increasingly popular form of coastal recreation, and responsible wildfowling clubs exist around the country. Many of these are affiliated to BASC, and respect voluntary bans during hard weather, and voluntary wildfowl sanctuary areas, in addition to legal restrictions on seasons and target species. However, conflict between wildfowlers and local residents, and other interested parties are occurring in many areas of estuary and foreshore from Solway to Dornoch - mainly due to irresponsible or unlicensed wildfowlers, bad or uninformed shooting and noise disturbance.
5.5 1 The RSPB recently bought 87 acre Mosstown Farm, adjacent to their Loch of Strathbeg reserve, in order to have more control over wildfowling there. Tel. 0131 557 3136.
5 5.2 At the SWT reserve at Montrose Basin, creation of an LNR allowed introduction of bylaws and a permit system for wildfowling. A special sanctuary zone was established, along with daily control tunes to allow undisturbed feeding and roosting, and a warden is employed to promote good conservation practice. Such an approach benefits all parties. Conservationists have seen an increase in birds using the estuary, wildfowlers find then* sport unproved by proper regulation, and land owners no longer have to confront armed trespassers. Contact Warden - Rick Goater. 01674 676 336.
5.5.3 The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock, Solway have developed a very successful co-existence with wildfowlers over the years Contact John Doherty. 0138 777 200
Brooks, A & Agate, E 1986 Sand dunes a practical handbook BTGV. Wallingford (Note this is an revised edition of Coastlands, 1979)
Countryside Commission for Scotland. 1984 Beach Recreation Management sheets 512-528
Mather, A.S. & Ritchie, W 1977 The beaches of The Highlands and Islands of Scotland Battleby, Countryside Commission for Scotland
Ranwell, D.S & Boar, R. 1986 Coast dune management guide Huntingdon, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology
Ritchie, W & Mather, A.S. 1984 The beaches of Scotland Battleby, Countryside Commission for Scotland
Walker, S. 1993 Unpublished lecture presented at Rural Forum conference on Coasts, held at Battleby in 1993
Tourism. land and water based leisure
Brian Wilson, 'Wildland' Natural Heritage Services, Achlunachan, Inverbroom, Ullapool, Ross-shire, IV26 2SA
Kathy Duncan - Coastal Ecologist, Aquatic Environments Branch (extension 2509)
George Lees - Coastal Geomorphologist, Earth Science Branch (extension 2452)
Scot Mathieson - Marine Recreation Officer, Aquatic Environments Branch (extension 2439)
Recreation and Access Branch
All located at
Research and Advisory Services Directorate
2/5 Anderson Place
Tel: 0131 447 4784
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