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Last Updated: Monday, 27 December, 2004, 10:37 GMT
Opening up the countryside
By Nia Thomas
BBC Wales rural affairs correspondent

Some people have said the act was not necessary
Thousands of acres of land in the Welsh countryside will be opened up to the public for the first time in 2005.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act means walkers will have permission to walk onto a quarter of the land in Wales - some half a million hectares.

Implementing the controversial act has taken four years.

The Countryside Council for Wales has organised almost 150 meetings and consulted 36,000 landowners to draw up new maps for the whole of Wales.

These will show exactly where people can exercise their new rights.

"It is going to be a big change but right to roam doesn't mean the whole of the Welsh countryside is open to the public," says CCW access officer Alun Price.

Walkers (generic)
Walkers will be able to explore parts they could not access before

"When the new ordnance survey maps come out in May they will show clearly where people can and can't exercise their new rights.

"People are used to being able to walk along linear routes or public rights of way - in May there will be the potential to walk off those routes.

"That, in turn, will lead to healthier people through walking and the economic regeneration of some areas," he said.

The new rights give access to what is known as open country - mountains which include moors, heath and down and registered common land.

This is on top of the 25,000 miles of public rights of way which are already in use.

Traditional antagonism

Walking is now the most popular leisure activity in Britain. In Wales it brings in 500m to the rural economy.

But some farmers, like John Pugh Roberts from Llanymawddwy in Meirionnydd, still feel the act is unnecessary.

"We have never prevented people from walking on these mountains and this new act has cost a lot of money," he said.

"It would have been much better if we had paths leading from one valley to another or one village to another over the mountains with way markers."

Mr Roberts is also chairman of the Berwyn Society, which represents the farmers in the area.

The act will open up new areas of land but walkers... are like sheep - they like to follow a definite path
Dewi Evans, walker

"They haven't listened to us at all.

"One of the first points we made was to stop dogs from coming onto the mountains, They've stopped them for a couple of months during lambing - but that's all. I think it's disgraceful, " he adds.

Dewi Evans from Bala, an experienced walker, said he shared some of Mr Roberts' views on the act being unnecessary.

He also said that the traditional antagonism between walkers and landowners is not a true reflection of the situation in most parts of Wales.

"One of the main things I would like to see coming from the act is education," he said.

"I wonder whether the national parks and the Countryside Council for Wales could instigate a programme of educating people about nature and the countryside.

"Although there are many people who live in the countryside and outlying villages, that doesn't mean they understand who things work.

"The act will open up new areas of land but walkers... are like sheep - they like to follow a definite path so I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make."

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