The owners of a tiny island off the coast of North Ayrshire have sparked a storm by announcing that visitors will have to pay £5 just to set foot on the island.

Access groups and tourists have hit out after the owners of Little Cumbrae posted a statement on social media saying members of the public would be required to buy a 'day pass' before paying a visit.

The island's owners say the charge is essential to "improve current facilities" and "safeguard Wee Cumbrae's natural beauty for future generations".

They also say that improvements carried out on the island over recent months have come with "significant costs".

The island was bought for £2.5 million in 2009 by Sarwan and Sunita Poddar of the Patanjali Yog Peeth Trust.

The announcement sparked anger from campaigners who say that the charge is not allowed under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC).

But the island's owners insist they are permitted to charge a fee for entry because the island is a "visitor attraction".

Scottish Outdoor Access Code vs Land Reform Act 2003

Scotways, the group which upholds public access rights across Scotland, says the island's owners are going against the terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

The legislation says that "access rights apply to all land and inland water in Scotland" unless it falls into one of the categories of 'excluded land' - and islands themselves aren't excluded.

A spokesperson from Scotways said: "Charging for access to land where access rights apply is only acceptable in one situation.

"That is when people were charged an entry fee for the 90 days preceding January 31, 2001, and that regime of charging for access for at least 90 days a year has been maintained ever since.

"If the landowner wants to charge for people to walk on the island, they need to remove access rights from the island."

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 managed the access rights applied to all land and inland water in Scotland (Image: Newsquest)

Scotways says that charges can only be applied under the Act if the owner lodges a petition to Scottish Parliament to exclude their island from access, or asks North Ayrshire Council to create byelaws allowing them to impose a fee.

Rachael Kennedy has been travelling to the island for several years on her sea kayak and enjoys taking walks exploring the wildlife.

However, she told the News she was left shocked and surprised at the announcement by the island's owners.

Locals have shared their surprise and shock over the new initiative Locals have shared their surprise and shock over the new initiative (Image: Newsquest Staff)

Rachael said: "Having accessed Wee Cumbrae for many years by sea kayak, I was surprised to discover they have recently started charging for a 'day visitor pass' to explore the island.

"This appears to violate the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which gives people the right to roam freely in most of Scotland.

"I understand they can legitimately charge to access the castle, buildings and associated gardens, plus a landing fee if using the piers or slipway by motorised craft, but extending this to the wild areas and tracks across the island is surely illegal."

Another regular visitor, Alasdair Smith, commented: "I am totally against this model of funding. Charging a compulsory fee for landing on an island goes against all the principals and morals of right to roam in Scotland.

"A much better model would be donations, which I am sure most people would be happy to contribute to - a donations bucket for what people can afford.

"I find it, in principle, wrong to charge merely to set foot on an island.

"Charging for entry changes the whole atmosphere of this beautiful place."

However, the move did attract some praise on social media, with one person describing it as "a brilliant idea" and another saying the day passes were "affordable".

Responding to the announcement, Gail Kilmartin said: "I have never visited but my husband and I have always wanted to. I think £5 is very affordable and if going to be reinvested into the island I am more than happy to pay this."

And Jason Coles added: "And well worth every donation too."

A spokesperson for the island's owners said: “We love having people visit Wee Cumbrae and are keen that they enjoy the full island experience.

"To ensure visitors can navigate the island safely, we spend a great deal of time clearing and restoring pathways.

"As a private owner, we have done this at our own cost for years, but this has become unsustainable.

"To continue this essential work, we are asking people to make a small payment to the upkeep of the pathways through the purchase of a day pass.

"All proceeds will be reinvested back into the island, funding improvements that will help us to future-proof Wee Cumbrae and keep it open to visitors.

"We are grateful for all the support we have received from the community for this initiative.”

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