The UK’s largest private landowner has been accused of breaching Scotland’s “right to roam” law by charging people to enter Dalkeith Country Park.
Joggers, cyclists and walkers are being charged £1 at the gates of the popular green space.
The charge was put in place earlier this year, following the introduction of a £20 “annual pass” for dog walkers several years ago.
Locals have also criticised the duke, who is installing CCTV and electric controls on the main gate of his working estate, of attempting to limit access.
Some former park users have refused to pay the fees, while there are fears that the £1 charge will act as a barrier for people who want to keep fit.
One resident described the fees as “morally repugnant” at a time when the public is being encouraged to have an active lifestyle.
Staff said that there had been a “nominal charge” for access for a number of years and the annual fee had been “well publicised”.
A £4 million redevelopment project is under way at Dalkeith Country Park, which will become home to a cafe, shops and a new adventure playground.
In the past drivers and those using the old playground were charged – but many users believe that the £1 entry charge to the main park is a step too far. Ramblers Scotland are understood to have received many concerns from members of the public about the issue.
Dave Morris, a former director of the charity, said he believed that the duke was breaching land reform law.
He said: “[The duke] needs to abandon his charging plans or face legislative action in the Scottish courts to secure public rights of access.”
John Ritchie, a dog owner from Newtongrange, said: “There are lots of people who refuse to pay. The gullible and the tourists are the ones being fleeced.”
The vast park spans the boundaries of East Lothian and Midlothian councils.
A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council said: “The council is working with Buccleuch to see if the aspirations of the estate can be met while at the same time asserting free right of access from Old Craighall for walkers, riders and cyclists.”
Midlothian Council said the estate could be complying with land reform legislation as it had previously charged for access in the summer months between 10am and 4pm. The local authority said that most residents knew they could walk for free outwith those times.
Edward Morris, manager of Dalkeith Country Park, said the estate had always encouraged people to enjoy the park.
He said: “There has been a nominal charge for access for several decades and people have always visited the park in great numbers. Our plans to alter the structure of our access fee have been well publicised and have been formulated following extensive consultation with local residents, community councils and stakeholders.”