Enforced public access would threaten distillery’s survival, says Ardnamurchan Estate owner

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The Ardnamurchan landowner at the centre of a row over public access to his estate has said if he was forced to permit access for walkers either through a busy woodchip processing yard, it could spell the end for the nearby distillery, which was only officially opened by Princess Anne in 2014.

The multi-million-pound distillery is owned by Adelphi Distillery Ltd, of which Ardnamurchan Estate owner, Donald Houston, is a director.

The possible threat to the continuation of the distillery came in an exclusive interview Mr Houston gave to the Lochaber Times.

He was responding after recent media coverage of a new report compiled by a number of residents, protesting over the erection of 17 locked gates on the estate, including access being restricted through the processing yard at Glenborrodale.

In 2019, as a possible solution, Highland Council proposed making the path linking Acharacle, Arivegaig, Glenborrodale and Laga a core path. This drew 39 messages of support from a mixture of the public, landowner, community councils, a local trust and a ramblers’ group.

However, the council notes that it also attracted eight objections from a landowner, local businesses and members of the public which included a petition signed by 200 people.

Core paths ‘facilitate, promote and manage the exercise of access rights’ under the land reform act, but the estate objected to the proposals on health and safety grounds, saying it had then suggested at least four alternatives.

The core path proposal went to the council’s local access committee and two years later, is due for to a Scottish Government inquiry.

Mr Houston told the Lochaber Times the estate focused on cattle and sheep farming with some forestry and tourism.

‘We always try to be very supportive of seeing people out on the hills, enjoying them – absolutely. But there are a couple of places where we really have to keep walkers out, such as farmyards and the curtilage of buildings,’ he explained, adding that Glenborrodale has had a working yard for at least the last 30 years.

‘The core path proposal for the route from Glenborrodale to Arivegaig is about 10 miles and we’ve had to say we are frightfully sorry but for about 75 yards, due to health and safety considerations,  there is no way we can allow people in amongst dangerous moving machinery, animal feed deliveries and the like.

‘We proposed at least four alternatives, including one via the nearby RSPB reserve. The RSPB told us it had no problem with that. The issue with it seems to be that it is not a fully made up track where it avoids the yard – it just means people have to wear boots rather than carpet slippers.’

Mr Houston said there is almost constant seven-day a week operation of the processing yard, involving the loading of trailers with woodchips, forklifts operating and tankers with caustic chemicals resulting from by-products of the distillery.

Mr Houston also said estate staff had previously found gates tied open allowing deer into areas of young forestry, gates lifted off their hinges and wildlife monitoring cameras stolen – all matters which have been reported to the police.

‘West Ardnamurchan maybe has a population of about 150 adults and almost every single one has been supportive of our position. There has been press coverage saying there is a rift with the local community. There is no rift.’

And Mr Houston warned: ‘If we were forced to allow access through a working yard, we would need to end operations at that yard and that would shut down the distillery and there’s been £4million investment in that already. We would have to shut the site.’

Mr Houston said the threat to the distillery if the yard had to cease machinery operations due to health and safety concerns would come about because of the resulting drastic rise in costs of basic materials and operations such as the buying in of woodchips.

‘Take the woodchips used for the distillery bio-mass boiler as an example – we would have to find an alternative supply of wood chip from elsewhere and the nearest would see it perhaps costing two or three times as much,’ he told us.

Mr Houston went on to highlight what he says are the estate’s contributions to supporting local communities on the peninsula, including the promotion of tourism and creating employment and training opportunities for local young people.