Having read your article (Courier, November 26) on access issues to the Hopes Reservoir, it reminded me of another area closed off to the public.

The Hopes and similar issues at West Saltoun Wood collectively suggest there is a concerted attempt to prevent the public exercising the right to roam, a long-held legal right in Scotland. This is an even more acute development given the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Despite his philanthropic rhetoric about working with the local community, Francis Ogilvie, owner of Winton Castle and West Saltoun Wood, has, it seems, recently decided to prevent public access to this expansive woodland walk.

Signs have been removed and metal gates installed at the former entrance.

Apparently it is in response to the growing number of ‘commercial’ dog walkers using the area.

This action not only stops them but other locals too, who have been in the habit of using the facility responsibly. It is unclear whether the many bike riders who have enjoyed access have likewise been shown the red card.

It somewhat makes one question the efficacy and rationale of the East Lothian Council-accredited dog walker scheme. I have on occasion spoken to some professional dog walkers who invariably walk packs of six or more dogs. They have confirmed they began using this ‘free’ woodland in preference to other sites where they have to pay for parking, such as at many beaches.

This development, therefore, poses a number of questions which merit further public exposure:

1. The status of Ogilvie’s perceived desire to support ‘freedom to roam’ legislation and what, if any, public funding he has received to support much of the recent tree planting, felling and wildlife habitat improvements (including the creation of several new ponds/drainage) he has advanced.

2. What process supports the dog walker accreditation scheme and how is it policed, if at all, by the council.

At best it totally contradicts the spirit of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003; at worst it highlights the heavy-handed approach of the landed gentry.

Mike Traynor


Sir Francis Ogilvie, owner of the Winton Estate, replied: “The gates were not erected by Winton Estate, nor were signs either erected or removed by the estate. Winton has a right of access over the road only. The gates came as a consequence of a growing irritation for the way the wood was being used by commercial dog walkers. There were some who were visiting the wood twice a day with vans full of dogs. As an indicator of the amount of use, a contractor working in the wood saw around 90 dogs at one time.

“I have received many complaints concerning these commercial dog walkers – notably the fact that often the dogs would be off the lead and left walkers feeling threatened. When I was asked if I would mind the first gate being erected, I said this would not cause me a problem, even though we have sought to encourage access throughout Winton Estate.

“It was a particular concern that, having created miles of footpath within the Winton woodlands, use was being made of the walks at Saltoun Big Wood in particular for commercial gain at the expense of quiet enjoyment which many had appreciated for years. Since the lockdown in March, we have been aware how much the Winton walks have been appreciated around Pencaitland and we have been happy to maintain the routes for this purpose.”