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Would you want someone wandering around in your back garden?
For centuries the Right to Roam has been deliberately conflated with home invasion. The absurdity here is a question of scale: the law of Tort, which governs trespass, makes no distinction between climbing the fence of someone's back garden, and taking a woodland stroll in a duke’s 13,000-acre estate. People have a right to privacy and personal security in their homes and gardens. But when the private wall of an estate extends around thousands of acres, the question becomes more prevalent: how much land does one person need exclusively? Each country that has a Right to Roam also has a codified understanding of what constitutes an area of privacy. In Sweden, it is forbidden to walk or camp within 70 metres of a dwelling or garden, in Norway it is 150 metres, in Scotland its is defined as a ‘reasonable distance’. An Englishman's home is his castle, a bastion of security and privacy, but when an Englishman's home is actually a castle, how much land does he really need for his exclusive use?
There’s already enough Open Access land, why do we need any more?
As it stands, only 8% of the English countryside is open for people to freely roam across. Some of this land is in large areas, such as the National Parks, and others are tiny plots dotted around the country, available to see on Ordnance Survey maps. As it stands, access to the wild, to wide open spaces, has become a postcode lottery, a perk for those that happen to live in the area. Of the wide variety of landscape types in England - its woodland, fenland, grassland, rivers, lakes - only a few are represented by this 8%.
On top of this, for anyone wishing to get out into nature for longer than a day, the current rulesprevent overnight camping unless in designated, paid-for spots, even on most open access land. (There are a few exceptions, such as on parts of Dartmoor, but they are the exception rather than the rule.) When you factor in the elements of travel costs and overnight accommodation, access to nature has become contingent on your economic income. We need the right to camp on land as well as walk on it, because as anyone that has gone wild camping knows, waking up in nature is a world apart from waking up in a campsite. We need to feel at home in nature, to go to sleep under the cries of hunting owls, to wake up to the dawn chorus.
You can get into the countryside by using footpaths and rights of way, why do you need more than that?
People don’t know how to treat the countryside with respect, there'll be loads more litter.
But the litterers and the vandals are the outliers. By far the majority of people who come to the countryside treat it with respect. For those that don’t, how will people they ever learn the code of the countryside, how to behave in nature, if they cannot regularly experience it in practice? If people continue to be cut off from the beauty of nature, how will they ever care about how it is treated? Nature must be experienced from an early age and enjoyed to be respected.
We propose that an extension of the Right to Roam should come with a much greater emphasis on promoting the Countryside Code:
Why has the Government spent less than £1m promoting the Code in the past 16 years? It needs a proper promotional budget.
Why shouldn’t children be taught the Countryside Code at school?
Instead of signs that warn against trespassing, why not have more signs that explain the Code? In Scotland, research has found that people respond much better to being informed than they do to being told.
Let's create a culture where people are much more aware of their responsibility to the land, to nature, and the communities that live and work in the countryside.
What about dogs defecating everywhere, scaring wildlife and worrying livestock?
Dogs are a genuine concern, and can do real damage to the countryside, especially during bird-nesting and lambing season. Again, though, we look to our Scottish neighbours, where trials have been in practice and evidence has been gathered for almost twenty years. Dogs are restricted at certain periods in the year, and in many places they are required to be on leads. Research has shown that far from banning people with no trespassing signs, by far the most effective technique is signage that informs people why such steps are necessary. People respond much better to being informed than being compelled.
Of course Right to Roam works in Scotland, there’s lots of mountains and open air, but there’s not enough space in England…
This is one of the oldest stories told about the English countryside. Only 9% of England is built upon, and the rest comprises open countryside, farmland and 'natural spaces' (forests, lakes, grasslands etc). In short, England is full of space, but it’s hidden by brick walls and barbed wire. On top of this, by opening up more of England, you would alleviate the pressure on existing open access land. At weekends, England’s paths would not be so full of ramblers and roamers, but instead, people would be able to get that sense of wide open country that is so healing to the soul.
Isn’t this just about abolishing private property? Isn’t this just the ‘politics of envy’?
Not at all. In countries that have enshrined the Right to Roam, the land is still owned by individuals. Private property is still intact. The only right they cede is the right to exclude others. This is not about envy. It is about equality. When access to the health giving resources of nature is so vital, how can it be fair that so much is given to private individuals? Private property must simply be redefined to allow people the access they so greatly need.
What about extending the Right to Roam in Wales?
Our campaign is about extending Right to Roam in England. Access rights are a devolved responsibility – the Welsh Government have the power to extend the CRoW Act in Wales. We very much hope they do, and think people in Wales should have the right to more access to nature too – it’s just that this campaign has been set up by people living in England, and we think a campaign about Right to Roam in Wales is best run by people who live there!