Golfer Lyle angers neighbours with his bunker-mentality

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Environmental groups and council officials are to seek talks with the golfing champion Sandy Lyle after he was accused of ignoring 300 years of tradition to create his own "private kingdom" on an isolated Highland estate.

The former Open champion and winner of the 1988 US Masters has angered neighbours and right-to-roam campaigners by putting up a string of "Strictly Private" signposts along a two-and-a-half mile stretch of Loch Voil, Perthshire.

Stirling Council officials and representatives of the Ramblers' Association in Scotland are concerned at the apparent attempts by Mr Lyle and other landowners in the picturesque Balquhidder Glen to keep visitors away from the loch.

Mr Lyle, 43, who has often represented Scotland in golf tournaments, bought the 2,000-acre estate of Craigruie House 18 months ago for a reported £700,000. He added to it with the purchase of a neighbouring farm at the beginning of August, now owns a section of the loch's north bank. Although the land was open to the public under the last owner, Mr Lyle, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, is understood to have had trouble with some visitors leaving rubbish behind.

Stirling Council launched an investigation after its countryside access officer, Richard Barron, received complaints from residents. Many were angry that while previous generations had been able to stop by the side of Loch Voil, stroll around and camp, new signs had appeared banning camping. Boulders had been strategically placed to thwart parking and make access to the loch more difficult.

A spokesman for the council said yesterday: "Mr Lyle has stopped access to a couple of areas previously used as camping grounds by the side of the loch. This is his land and technically he is allowed to do what he wants. The previous owner used to permit camping but he would make sure the site was kept clear of rubbish.

"Technically, we have no powers to order the removal of the signs but we will be having talks with Mr Lyle and other landowners in the area to see if we can do anything to prevent disputes like this occurring."

Bob Morris, director of the Ramblers' Association in Scotland, said they would also be taking the matter up with Mr Lyle. He said: "We will be taking this up in due course to ask him why he does not respect the customs and traditions of access which exist in Scotland.

"We need to establish how the police and local authority can help him with vandalism. The action he has taken has, in effect, cut off his land from public access and created a private kingdom. His actions are common among new owners who don't know the customs of Scotland. It's an increasing problem.

"There is a misconception that the intended land-reform legislation to be introduced by the Scottish Executive will solve problems like this, but it won't. The legislation could actually make things worse and provide an opportunity for land owners to take this attitude".

Under the present legislation disputes of trespass are a civil matter and the police will not get involved unless there is evidence of criminal damage. But under the proposed legislation in the Land Reform Bill, which is due to come before the Scottish Parliament soon, landowners will be able to call the police to remove anybody who refuses to leave the land on request – irrespective of any evidence of damage.

Peter McIntee, 63, of Greenacres, Balquhidder, said yesterday: "It's not just Sandy Lyle. To name him as the sole culprit is unfair. There's more than just the Craigruie estate doing it. This is happening all over Scotland, and in Balquhidder Glen more than two-thirds of the loch has now been cut off from public access.

"It's unfair. For years people have been able to sit by the loch side. The land around Loch Voil has always been privately owned but people have traditionally enjoyed access. On the south side, where I have walked for more than 50 years, the owners have started putting obstacles in the way.

"Landowners have every right to stop fishing or the lighting of fires but they don't have any right to stop public access. We have had right of access since the 1700s but these new owners are shutting it off ... It's not acceptable."