Sunday 14 June 2009

Ramblers Betray Scotland

Over the years the Ramblers have been a major force in access and conservation work in Scotland. Now the UK head office of the Ramblers is proposing closing the Scottish office, making the staff redundant and then reemploying two of them to work from home on reduced wages. The same is proposed for the Ramblers in Wales – I don’t know what effect this will have there. I do know that this will have serious consequences in Scotland and suggests that the Ramblers Board in London have little knowledge or understanding of the role Ramblers Scotland plays. I’ve worked with the Scottish Ramblers staff – most recently on the Beauly-Denny Landscape Group – and know just how good and committed they are. Losing them will be a big blow to all outdoors people in Scotland. Unfortunately the Ramblers are a UK based group run from London and the Scottish branch is just that, a branch. Maybe it’s time for Ramblers Scotland to break loose and become an independent Scottish organisation not beholden to London masters.

Cameron McNeish, a Vice-President and former President of Ramblers Scotland, has written good pieces on this on his blog and on the TGO forum in the Speak Out section. His heading “have the Ramblers gone completely mad?” shows what he thinks. There is also a good piece by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald under the heading "Death by a vicious cut for Ramblers Scotland".

I’ve been concerned for some time that the Ramblers are becoming a cosy Southern England organisation, losing their radical heritage and commitment. I’ve been a member for many years. It looks like I won’t be renewing.

Update: Dick Balharry, Dennis Canavan and Cameron McNeish, the President, Convener and Vice-President of Ramblers Scotland have launched an appeal for £200,000 to keep the organisation going.

Photo info: A new double fence across Ben Tirran above Glen Clova, May 2009. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@18mm, 1/500@F5.6, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.


  1. This is very disappointing. For a moment I misread it, and thought you were talking about the Scottish YHA, which was *very* concerning.

    I hope that either the Ramblers can be persuaded to re-think, or that the Scottish branch will break away, as you suggest.

  2. Sounds to me the UK Head Office should be renamed the England Head Office and there should be a Scottish Ramblers as well as a Welsh Ramblers.

  3. As a Ramblers member from England I'm disappointed. With devolution really working now, we need people relating to each political/civic system in the UK if The Ramblers is going to speak with credibility about anything. I can't speak with certainty about the London based bias affecting Ramblers vis a vis Scotland, but as an East Midlands resident I can vouch for it affecting most London based organisations so i can understand how you feel!
    As to having a Scottish Ramblers, The Ramblers can be and probably should be a registered charity in Scotland as well as England anyway - see the Scottish charity registration requirements. Certainly if you feel disenfranchised by London, go for it yourselves!

  4. Sad news, and doesn't seem to make sense with devolution in Scotland and Wales. How can the London office be best placed to lobby the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments.

  5. Chris, the link to the Ramblers Scotland press release about Dennis Canavan's appeal seems to be broke - or have Ramblers Albert Embankment removed the press release?

    According to tje Ramblers' own website, Ramblers Scotland has 58 local groups - surely they don't really want to upset every single member of every single group? That represents a lot of lost subscriptions if there's a schism in the offing.

  6. Nothing so sinister John! The press release has been reissued as coming from Dick Balharry, Dennis Canavan and Cameron McNeish. I've updated the link.

    There are around 7,500 members of Ramblers Scotland.

  7. Chris - I posted the comment below on Cameron's site.

    I can’t help but wonder if this unfortunate development could present a good opportunity for structural change amongst the numerous organisations ‘representing’ hill goers and other mountain users.

    If one was able to compare the Scottish membership databases of Ramblers, MCofS, John Muir Trust, BMC and others I am sure there would be significant overlap. On access as a policy area for example where would the interests of Ramblers differ from MCofS members? Hardly if at all.

    Small organisations struggle to raise the ‘working capital’ they need to survive and operate in a sustainable way. Why not use this chance to convene a meeting of all those interested in protecting the Scottish upland environment with a view to forming one single powerful organisation?

    Just a thought…

  8. Neil, whilst there is some overlap I don't think these organisations are close enough for a merger. MCoS isn't concerned with urban access for example and the Ramblers aren't interested in rock climbing or ski mountaineering. The BMC doesn't operate in Scotland, although people can join. The MCoS and BMC work closely together and the BMC contributes towards the MCoS's access and conservation work as it understands that walkers and climbers from south of the border often use the Scottish hills. All the Scottish organisations do work together with other groups in Scottish Environment Link.

  9. Chris - there are always reasons for not doing something but its has always seemed to me there is a 'cluttered landscape' of conservation organisations in Scotland and some rationalisation could lead to real benefits.

    A first step might be a move towards co location of premises for example.

    If the vision and leadership was there it could happen. Sadly most folk can't see the wood for the trees and we'll probably go on being easy pickings for those using the old 'divide and rule' tactics.

  10. Greater co-operation is certainly a good idea but these organisations don't simply duplicate each other's work. Conservation, for example, is only part of the remit of the MCoS. Mountain safety, mountaineering clubs, sport development are all also important.

    The purpose of Scottish Environment Link is to combine the power of groups to make it more effective.

    I don't think "divide and rule" comes into it as the organisations all work closely together. The Ramblers problems come from outside Scotland.

  11. This is probably not really related, but when Sue and I were walking last year near Morven we followed a path on the map to a path that was no longer present on the ground.
    Nothing new there, you say, this "path" ended at a barbed wire fence. We had no choice but to clamber over it carefully with 2 dogs.
    The house "owner" said that the "owner" of the land had blocked it off and let it over grow...

  12. I think this is a difficult time for all charities because donations are drying up. Faced with reduced incomes many charity trustees are faced with having to make tough decisions about their spending policies.

    What charities need right now is continued support from donors.

  13. Mike, you are right of course. But in this case the Ramblers UK have made the wrong decisions, unless the aim is to become a SE England urban group. Money has just been spent "rebranding" the Ramblers that could have been better spent on the work they exist to do. If this proposal goes ahead I shall certainly leave the Ramblers so they will lose my money. I expect many others will do the same.

  14. There's that awful phrase again, "tough decisions", tough for who? The urban component of The Ramblers is the obvious choice for cuts if any are to be made. The savings made by cutting respectively similar status jobs/services are likely to be higher in London and the south east than anywhere in Wales or Scotland and would have less of an impact. After all, cutting six staff in Wales is a 75% reduction in personnel. What would it represent in London I wonder?

  15. The decisions have been made and the Scottish and Welsh staff have gone. Cameron McNeish has posted about it on his blog:

  16. Ramblers Cymru is still functioning. The Rights of Way officer was retained as a priority as we have areas here with less than 50% of the footpaths walkable. We have appointed a Senior Ramblers Cymru Development and Promotions Officer from one of our staff who is very pro-active and has an excellent track record.

    Courtesy of external funding from Welsh sources we have retained the Communities on Foot officer.
    We have also retained our Communities Walking Project Officer again by thinking outside the box.
    We very much hope that we will manage to support a fifth post on a short term contract from funding again not from the allocation given to us by Ramblers HQ.

    Our government and we too have a different system of government from England has made it clear that they want Ramblers Cymru to continue as we play a vital role in ensuring access really does happen in Wales. We currently have two volunteers Andrew Morgan and Zetta Flew doing amazing work on providing advice for the proposed Coastal Path around Wales.

    We have not as yet sorted all the difficulties caused by the decisions made by Ramblers. We may have to re-locate. We don't know.

    What we do know is that we have the will in Wales to keep Ramblers Cymru serving walkers in our very beautiful country.

    If you are in Wales during the Eisteddfod week come and visit our stand. We will be delighted to see you.

    Best wishes to you all
    Helen Lloyd Jones
    Chair Ramblers Cymru

  17. Thanks for that information Helen. I'm very pleased to hear that Ramblers Cymru is managing okay and I hope you can overcome the difficulties caused by Ramblers London. I haven't visited Wales for several years but I used to do so well and was at university there for three years. It is a beautiful country.