A GROUP of ramblers have started crowdfunding ahead of a court battle over access rights to a Highland estate owned by a major Better Together donor.

Donald Houston, reportedly the Unionist group’s second largest donor, owns the Ardnamurchan Estate near Kilchoan on the west coast of Scotland.

Walking charity Ramblers Scotland has accused the landowner of trying to “permanently sever” a historic path which runs through the estate, offering views of Loch Sunart.

The group says the Glenborrodale to Acharacle path is of “great value” to members of the local community, and is used as a strategic long-distance trail by walkers.

Woodland Renewables, which is part of the estate, has launched a legal action with the aim of having a sheriff rule that access rights don’t apply to the area as it is used as a wood yard.

READ MORE: Millionaire Better Together donor's estate 'breaking public access laws'

Highland Council has confirmed its intention to oppose the application and will be receiving support from Rambers Scotland at Fort William Sheriff Court.

The council also aims to prove that a path crossing the affected area of the estate is a right of way. The next date in the case will be February 2.

Brendan Paddy, the director of Ramblers Scotland, said: “We always view legal action as a last resort. In fact, we haven’t entered an access case of this type in well over a decade, particularly as legal action can be so costly.

“However, this is a landmark legal case featuring an historic and important path. If we don’t fight to save the route, it’ll be a significant blow to our hard-won access rights and walkers will be banned from parts of this beautiful trail forever.

“I hope that lovers of the outdoors will consider donating to support our work - and deliver a resounding message that people in Scotland believe our access rights are worth fighting for.”

Houston has insisted that the estate’s moves are down to health and safety issues. “It’s a working industrial site, where for health and safety reasons, we cannot allow access.

“We can’t have folk wandering willy-nilly about the yard where there are wood chippers, lorries, JCBs and chemical hazards … it’s dangerous, it’s as simple as that,” he told the Press and Journal.

He went on: “It’s a fundamental thing that land in Scotland is free to access to everybody, which I wholly support.

“But you wouldn’t want somebody walk up your garden path, go around your house and out the back garden. In the same way I can’t allow people to go through a working farmyard where there is danger. It’s bonkers.”

Ramblers Scotland is asking people to donate what they can as legal fees could reach up to £82,000.

This case is not the first time campaigners have hit out at the Better Together donor’s estate.

READ MORE: Row over access at Highland peninsula has implications for the rest of Scotland

Earlier this year Dr Michael Foxley, a former leader of Highland Council, and a number of local residents of the Ardnamurchan peninsula accused Houston and the estate of locking gates on walking routes.

A report compiled by Foxley and other locals claimed 17 locked gates were counted on paths around the estate land in January 2020 – and argued that set a “dangerous precedent” for land rights.

There were also tensions in 2019 when two local residents were reported to the police for alleged aggravated trespass on the state – but after being interviewed and a report sent to the procurator fiscal, no further action was taken.