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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 16:06 GMT
River workers slam land reform
Campaigners outside the parliament
River workers fear their jobs could be hit
Protesters have marched on the Scottish Parliament to highlight fears over radical land reforms being considered by MSPs.

Around 50 Highland river workers claim their jobs would be under threat as a result of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Many of the campaigners, who are members of the Crofting Counties Fishing Rights Group (CCFRG), wielded placards and heckled MSPs as they arrived for the start of a two-day scrutiny of the Bill.

The protesters are furious at the section of the Bill which would give crofting communities a right to buy the land they work on even if the landowner does not want to sell.

The Isle of Gigha
MSPs are being urged to make changes
They say that no publicly-owned rivers in the Highlands employ anyone and that hundreds of river workers currently employed by landowners could therefore be made redundant.

CCFRG spokesman Andrew Graham-Stewart said: "We've not been consulted. This has been pushed through on the back of spite and prejudice.

"The end game is to remove large landowners from the Highlands and it's quite clear that this piece of legislation is the first move by those with that political agenda to achieve their aims.

"What landlord is going to invest in their estates if some time in the future their property is going to be taken from them through compulsory purchase?"

The Scottish Executive's flagship Bill would enshrine the right of responsible access to the countryside for recreation.

It would also give non-crofting communities first refusal when the land they lease is put up for sale.

Trespass laws

MSPs later clashed over moves by the executive to clarify the law of trespass in Scotland.

Deputy Rural Development Minister Allan Wilson said there was "confusion" about whether or not trespass was an offence north of the border.

But the Bill, he said, would establish a "statutory right" of responsible access to the countryside.

Mr Wilson said it would "give the public the confidence to go out and enjoy the countryside and know what they can and can't do".

But Tory MSP Bill Aitken said that part of the legislation was "largely unnecessary" because landowners and ramblers had lived happily side by side for years.

He said: "There have been no significant problems. Why interfere with something when quite clearly it is working."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  BBC Scotland's Louise Batchelor
"The new Bill states it is securing an existing right of access"
See also:

23 Apr 02 | Scotland
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
24 Aug 01 | Scotland
18 Aug 01 | Scotland
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