Concerns over barbed wire booby traps in the countryside

<em>Picture: John Thomson</em>
Picture: John Thomson
by Rob Edwards

Gamekeepers have been accused of setting potentially lethal booby traps in the countryside after green-coloured barbed wire was strung at head-height across a woodland track near Fettercairn in Aberdeenshire.

Long-distance horse rider, John Thomson, was only saved from serious injury because his pure-bred Arabian gelding, Prince Omar, came to a juddering halt just in front of the wire during an early morning training run last week. “It was a narrow escape,” Thomson said.

“We normally canter this section into the woods, and against the background of trees and bushes the wire was difficult to see. This was a deliberate action to prevent access by horses, designed to cause maximum damage.”

Thomson blamed inexperienced gamekeepers for setting a trap that could have caused a “catastrophe” for riders, cyclists or quad-bikers. “This was a stupid act of gross insensitivity in countryside matters,” he said.

He complained to Grampian Police, and to the Fettercairn Estate, whose land includes the woodland track. As a result, the wire was taken down after a couple of days, though it remains in the undergrowth and could be put up again.

The wire was described as “nasty” and “horrific” by countryside recreation groups, who back Thomson’s complaint. “This seems like a very vindictive way of preventing access,” said Helene Mauchlen, Scottish development officer for the British Horse Society.

“The incident occurred in area where horse riders are hemmed in on all sides by land managers using various means to deny equestrians their right of responsible access.”

According to Dave Morris, the director of Ramblers Scotland, there are too many places in Scotland where barbed wire, electric fences or locked gates prevented walkers and others from their rightful access to the countryside. There is an “awkward minority of landowners who spoil the hard work of others”, he said.

“In upland areas we are seeing the increasing use of electrified wires on deer fencing, making it impossible to climb over such fencing when crossing the hillsides. Electrified fencing of this sort should be prohibited.”

Morris called on MSPs and councilors to act to remove the barriers to responsible access. “Private kingdoms for the exclusive use of the few are no longer acceptable in modern Scotland,” he said.

Thomson, who completed a 200-mile ride across Scotland on Prince Omar in 2008 and has written a book about endurance riding, was also backed by his local MSP, Nigel Don. “I am very concerned to hear about this very dangerous occurrence,” Don said.

“Regardless of the legal rights of access, which may be in dispute, I can see no justification for the use of barbed or razor wire across what was previously an established route.”

Euan Barclay, the factor for the 40,000-acre Fettercairn estate, said the wire had not been put up by any member of his staff. But there were several shooting and other tenants on the estate, he pointed out.

“When I was notified of this incident, I made an investigation, contacted tenants and met them,” Barclay said. He is meeting with tenants again this week to discuss what should happen next, and has instructed that the wire be removed in the meantime.

The wire could have been put up for health and safety reasons to prevent people from accessing an area where deer or vermin were being shot, Barclay suggested. Green was a common colour meant to be sympathetic with the countryside, and was “nothing sinister”, he said.

“This has given me a bit of angst,” Barclay said. “It’s got a bit heated, but I’m sure we will find an amicable solution.”

A police spokeswoman said: “Grampian Police can confirm they received a report regarding fencing at Goskiehill, Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, on 6 June 2011. An officer has attended and suitable advice has been given to all parties concerned.”

Rob Edwards, environmental news and comment.

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