INTRODUCTION: A RIGHT TO ROAM?
Norway and Scotland are North Sea neighbours with a similar population, geology and landscape. However, their inhabitants have had very different experiences of nature and access to the outdoors through education, sport, leisure and the use of weekend huts and wooden cabins.
Both countries have ‘right to roam’ laws, mountain bothies, National Parks and a tradition of distinctive winter sports. Dig deeper, though, and differences quickly appear.
Norway has forty-three National Parks, the first established in 1962. Scotland has two National Parks, the first established in 2002, and neither Scottish park is a wilderness area owned by the government. This example sets a theme that crops up in almost every comparison of nature and outdoor access in Scotland and Norway. Formal rights of access to the outdoors in Scotland have typically occurred half a century later than in Norway, have been less far-reaching and have not changed or challenged the dominance of private sporting estates.
The Norwegians have always practised allemannsretten or ‘freedom to roam’. In 1957, this was codified into an Outdoor Recreation Act giving the public rights of access to hike in the mountains, camp overnight, cycle on tracks and ski in forests during the winter – though not closer than 150 metres to any inhabited dwelling.
It took half a century longer for Scots to gain much the same package of legal access rights. Before that, Scots had the same long-standing belief in their traditional and informal ‘right to roam’, insisting trespass and ‘Private – Keep Out’ signs had no basis in Scots law. Some landowners – especially incomers with a different legal experience from south of the border – contested these customary rights, and during the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 farmers were accused of closing the countryside for longer than necessary. Nordic-style access laws were finally adopted in 2003 to resolve such disputes as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. Yet despite this apparently similar customary and legal framework, the proportion of people actually using the outdoors today in Norway and Scotland is very different.