A leading rural body is calling for a nationwide campaign to teach the public about responsible access when visiting the countryside.
The plea from Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) follows a survey of land managers across Scotland which found problems surrounding littering, antisocial behaviour and dogs being let off the lead near livestock and wildlife.
The survey, which ran last month, was launched to assess how a rise in the number of people visiting the countryside during the Covid-19 crisis had been affecting land managers.
It found 27% of land managers have experienced antisocial behaviour, including fighting, shouting and noise from parties, from members of the public visiting the countryside this year.
It also found 62% experienced problems with litter being left behind, and 50% encountered issues with irresponsible dog walkers who let their dogs off the lead near livestock and wildlife and did not bag and bin their dogs’ poo.
The survey also found 40% of land managers had experienced problems with people lighting irresponsible fires in the countryside, as well as cutting down trees and pulling up fence posts for fire wood.
Just under a third reported problems with “dirty campers” who left behind broken glass and other mess, including human waste, while 36% told of issues with parked cars blocking gates and country roads.
“We want people to enjoy visiting the Scottish countryside safely and responsibly,” said SLE chief executive, Sarah-Jane Laing.
“Getting out and about and taking in the fresh air, nature and peacefulness of rural Scotland can be extremely beneficial for our mental and physical health.”
However, she added: “Sadly, there is a minority that is causing a great deal of harm to wildlife and livestock, the environment and other people who visit, live and work in the countryside.”
SLE is now calling for a Scotland-wide education programme to publicise the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and ensure members of the public know how to behave when visiting the countryside.
“We also want to see more support for the police to allow better enforcement of existing legislation to deal with those causing serious problems in the countryside,” added Ms Laing.
“This way everyone can enjoy the countryside safely.”
Other rural bodies, including NFU Scotland, have also reported problems with irresponsible access of the countryside by visitors during the pandemic.
Reported incidents include flytipping and the death of 11 cows on an undisclosed Scottish farm.
This was caused by a walker leaving a gate open and the cows later died of staggers having escaped and gorged themselves on a field of grass destined for silage.