Research Info
  • Title: What does responsible access in the uplands mean conceptually and in practice for mountain bikers and land managers in the Cairngorms National Park?
  • Researcher Name(s): Fran Pothecary
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What does responsible access in the uplands mean conceptually and in practice for mountain bikers and land managers in the Cairngorms National Park?

Introduction

This thesis examines responsible outdoor access in upland and mountain areas and what it means - both as a concept and in practice - for mountain bikers and land managers, drawing on a case study in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (The Act) confers on the public a right of access to most land and water in Scotland for non-motorised recreation. 

The rights have to be exercised ‘responsibly’ and the concept underpinning The Act is one of ‘shared use’. There is no exception to this in the Cairngorms National Park, which was designated in 2003 as an IUCN Category 5 Protected Landscape. However, as mountain bikers extend their explorations to more remote areas, such as the Cairngorms plateau, the contested nature of upland and mountain access has sharpened. Many land managers express concern at the physical and social impacts of mountain bikers, and a sense that mountain bikes are ‘inappropriate’ in upland environments. 

The research sought to explore the key influences that shape these two interest groups’ view of mountain biking in the uplands, and how this relates to their perceptions of how the uplands should be used. This was achieved by conducting two focus groups comprising 12 stakeholders from the local mountain biking community and land managers drawn from the montane core of the National Park respectively. The thesis discusses the key themes that emerged, including: the significance of the Cairngorms for recreation; the perceived social and environmental impacts of mountain biking; the role of codes of conduct, and wider education, in recreational decision-making; entitlement to, and management of, the physical infrastructure of access such as paths and tracks, and the promotion of mountain biking.

Specific Research Objectives

The study is structured around two research questions:
1. How are access rights and responsibilities conceived of and enacted in the uplands of the Cairngorms National Park in relation to mountain biking?
2. What are the influences that shape the different interest groups’ views of mountain biking in the uplands and how does this relate to perceptions of how they should be used?

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