The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 created access land in England and Wales. Access land includes mountains, moors, heaths and downs that are privately owned. It also includes common land registered with the local council and some land around the England Coast Path. Your right to access this land is called the ‘right to roam’, or ‘freedom to roam’.
In 2021 it was announced that the Treasury had commissioned Lord Agnew to lead a review into access to nature, asking respondents for “radical, joined up thinking” to achieve a “quantum shift in how our society supports people to access and engage with the outdoors”.
But here in early 2022 the government have said the review has been wound up and they won’t be releasing any results.
This is at the dismay of campaigners who want more people to realise the impact people only having the right to roam over a mere 8% of the English countryside. There are many campaigners asking for the right to roam to be extended to cover woods, green belts and rivers. With 97% of rivers off limits to the public and tens of thousands of acres of woodland currently benefiting from public subsidies yet we are not allowed to roam freely to enjoy them!
The environment minister Rebecca Pow said in response to a question from Labour’s Alex Sobel: “The Access to the Outdoors Commission was a cross-government process designed to inform the spending review on how to increase access to green spaces. There are no plans to release the review in a consolidated way. Rather the results of the review are now incorporated in the spending review which is providing more than £30m to improve public access to green spaces in support of health, wellbeing, and the environment.”
Guy Shrubsole, an author and co-founder of the Right to Roam campaign, said:
“The government ought to be championing increased access to the countryside by extending our right to roam to include rivers, woods and green belt land.
“Instead, ministers have squashed what could have been a groundbreaking review of access rights, seemingly bowing to landed interests. But they’re on the wrong side of history – the public want greater access to nature and will win in the end.”
Tom Fyans, the director of campaigns and policy at CPRE, said:
“To quash efforts aimed at improving access including the right to roam in this manner sends the wrong message. To ensure a healthy future for the countryside it should be available for everyone to enjoy.
“Unfortunately, there is a sliding scale of injustice when it comes to who has access to nature. We need to urgently open up our green belts, which are the countryside next door for 30 million people. For those in towns and cities it’s vital we increase the number of local green spaces, particularly when they are targeted at the most nature deprived communities.
“The most urgent need is in economically deprived areas in the north, where the poorest in society often don’t have easy access to our national parks and sometimes don’t even have a local park to enjoy the benefits of nature on their doorstep.”
James MacColl, head of policy, advocay and campaigns at The Ramblers said:
“The government … isn’t making use of its own Environment Act powers to set public access targets. Its new farm payments scheme shows no sign of rewarding farmers for improving access on their land, despite repeated promises. Proposed changes to the planning system don’t prioritise access to nature,”
“As the Ramblers continue to campaign for access rights, this weekend we’ll be celebrating the 90th anniversary the Kinder Scout trespass, a landmark protest on the route to improving access to the countryside for all.
“Access to these green open spaces is still currently very limited and unequal and the Ramblers wants to see government extend the freedom to roam across England and Wales so that it is more easily accessible, and better connected to our path network and our towns and cities,”.