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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Right to roam: right or wrong?

It's land that's no longer banned.

On 19 September, people will have a legal right to roam across two previously restricted areas of England. More access will follow as the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 comes into force.

But the issue is still provoking heated debate.

News Online brought together two key players - one from either side of the fence - for an e-mail exchange...

Map showing first two right-to-roam areas

  • Mark Hudson, President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who warns the new law could cause chaos in the countryside; and

  • Chris Smith, the president of the Ramblers' Association, who says everyone will benefit - from walkers to rural communities.

    -----Original Message-----
    From: SMITH, Christopher
    To: HUDSON, Mark

    Dear Mark,

    On 19 September the first two areas of England - the South East and the "Lower North West" - will be opened up for a broader right of access for walkers to open country, mountain and moorland.

    It's a day to celebrate, surely.

    At long last the ordinary citizen, no matter who they are or how rich or poor they may be, will have a right to roam freely in the wild landscapes of our country.

    Chris Smith (photo: Richard Else, Triple Echo Productions)
    When I was a youngster, I was turned away from climbing a mountain by a landowner wielding a gun
    Chris Smith

    A right to breathe fresh air and enjoy fine views and get some healthy exercise. A right to share the great heritage of England's countryside.

    But it's a right - of course - that has to be exercised responsibly.

    The areas for open access have been carefully determined so that domestic, agricultural, and scientifically important land are excluded.

    Irresponsible behaviour will be as illegal in the future as it has been in the past.

    But careful and trustworthy ramblers and walkers will have a chance to enjoy far more of the open countryside than before.

    I know the importance of this at first hand.

    I remember vividly how, when I was a youngster, I was turned away from climbing a mountain by a landowner standing across the track wielding a gun.

    I was causing no harm. There was no livestock to disturb. There were no crops to damage. There was simply a refusal to let us pass.

    That will now no longer be possible, and I applaud the change with all my heart.

    I very much hope that landowners will welcome - or at least accept - it too.

    Yours sincerely,

    Chris

    -----Original Message-----
    From: HUDSON, Mark
    To: SMITH, Christopher.

    Dear Chris

    Access to country land has long been mired in politics and redundant class arguments.

    But now is the time to look at how we can make the new access rights work for all: for those wishing to enjoy visiting the countryside, for those whose livelihoods depend on the land and for the land itself which is cared for by farmers and land managers.

    The mapping of access land has been costly, frustrating and fraught with mistakes in the rush to push through the legislation.

    Mark Hudson, CLA President
    Dangerous land containing quarries and quick sand (has) been mapped as freely accessible to the public
    Mark Hudson

    The CLA has spent a lot of the last year helping members deal with situations where gardens, agricultural land, sites of special scientific interest and dangerous land containing quarries and quick sand have been mapped as freely accessible to the public.

    Our concern now is at the lack of public understanding about the new rights, about how information will be easily available to the public about where they can go, when they can use the access land and what they can do when they get there.

    We urge people wishing to visit access land to check the open access website and local information points, to use groups like the Ramblers, to check the new Ordnance Survey maps before they set off.

    That way they can safely enjoy their activity without impinging on rural businesses.

    Yours sincerely,

    Mark

    -----Original Message-----
    From: SMITH, Christopher
    To: HUDSON, Mark

    Dear Mark,

    Thank you for such a constructive response.

    I agree with you entirely about the need to ensure that information about what rights are now available under the Act, how they can be responsibly exercised, and where the access land actually lies, is made as widely and readily available as possible.

    The Ramblers' Association will try to play its part in this.

    I'm also pleased that the Countryside Agency is making available 2 million to local authorities to help with signs, and that further funding is being put in place by the Government to help with stiles, gates, and other improvements to access.

    The mapping process has inevitably taken a bit of time - probably, in truth, longer than I would have wished.

    Good, sustainable land management and public access can in fact go hand in hand.

    But landowners have been able to object to proposed access areas, and there has been a proper inquiry procedure to cope with disagreements.

    I believe it has been a thoroughly fair exercise.

    All of us who come to visit the countryside, as ramblers or walkers or simply as visitors, do indeed need to acknowledge the care and stewardship of the countryside practised day in, day out, by farmers, land managers and those who work the land.

    But I believe the greater access enshrined in the Act will in fact enhance the economy and livelihood of the countryside.

    Many millions of people find enjoyment and solace in walking; they contribute to the rural economy in a host of ways; and we know from those terrible months of foot-and-mouth in 2001 how enormous the impact of rural recreation (or its absence) can be.

    Good, sustainable land management and public access can in fact go hand in hand.

    Yours sincerely,

    Chris

    -----Original Message-----
    From: HUDSON, Mark
    To: SMITH, Christopher

    Dear Chris

    We too hope that visitors to the countryside will support the rural economy by using local shops and businesses and by respecting the Countryside Code.

    The mapping process indeed has run into tens of millions of pounds and, far from a fair exercise, the thousands of costly and stressful appeals it is still spawning are due to initial sloppiness that could have been avoided.

    Each local authority is getting a woefully inadequate amount to tackle such a huge project

    A far greater proportion of this public money would have been better spent on establishing and maintaining more information points detailing where people can go, advised routes and temporary closures and on a public hotline that is actually open on weekends!

    Two million pounds in an access grant scheme may sound a lot of money for signage.

    But, when it is distributed over such a wide area, each local authority is getting a woefully inadequate amount to tackle such a huge project.

    We hope that the difficulties experienced in the initial areas open to the public will persuade the Government that they need to properly fund the implementation of the new access rights on the ground.

    Proper funding for signage and information boards, coupled with a long-term communication and public education programme is the only way that the new access rights will work for everyone.

    Yours sincerely

    Mark




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