Freedom to Roam in England & Wales
WHAT DOES THE NEW "RIGHT TO ROAM" LAW SAY?
he Countryside and Rights of Way Act creates a new legal right of access on foot to some, but not all, areas of open, uncultivated countryside. The law will allow walkers to explore away from paths on approximately four million acres of mountain, moor, heath, down, and common land in England and Wales. It also includes safeguards to protect the environment and landowners' interests. It does NOT allow people to walk through back gardens, or over crops. The Act also grants the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales powers to extend a right of access to coastal land, subject to a full impact assessment in the future.
WILL THE NEW LAW APPLY DIFFERENTLY IN ENGLAND AND WALES?
he Ramblers' Association will work to ensure that the new access is consistently applied in England and Wales, but variations may occur where the Welsh Assembly and the Department for the Environment Transport and Regions so choose.
WHEN WILL THE LAW COME INTO EFFECT?
he Countryside and Rights of Way Act is now on the statue books, but we shall not be able to enjoy the new right fully for several years. The Countryside Agency (CA) and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) will draw up maps showing where the new right of access will apply. The mapping of open countryside areas will take 3 - 4 years to complete and until these maps are published, there is no general right to roam over areas of open, uncultivated countryside (see below). There must also be time for landowners and farmers to apply for closures and restrictions where necessary.
DO I HAVE ANY RIGHT OF ACCESS TO OPEN COUNTRY BEFORE THE MAPS ARE PRODUCED?
he current situation will persist until the access maps are produced. In general, there is no freedom to roam and in most areas of open country, you are a trespasser. However, there are some places where walkers may currently enjoy a freedom to wander. Some places, such as town parks, country parks and village greens are intended for public use and so are open to the public. Most of the 1.37 million acres of common land in England and Wales are privately owned. The public has a legal right of access to only about one fifth of this land although there is de facto access to many areas of common land. The National Trust owns common land and other open country, and it is Trust policy to allow the public onto their land. Most Forestry Commission woodlands and plantations are also open to the public. Areas of land where access agreements apply or where access is tolerated by the landowner may remain open to walkers, although in the latter case the landowner could turn people off at any time, making the walker a trespasser. Some moorland water-gathering grounds are open to people on foot by virtue of special nineteenth century legislation and although they are privately owned like other types of land, the public usually enjoys access to beaches. There is, however, no right to cross private land in order to reach a beach. Government cash for access programmes such as Countryside Stewardship and agri-environment schemes including Tir Gofal are also set to continue. Finally, 'fast track access' may be granted to certain types of land (common land and land over 600m) which are defined as open country under the Act and can already be identified on existing maps.
WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES COME WITH THE NEW RIGHT OF ACCESS?
nyone who drops litter, lights fires, wilfully damages walls, plant or animal life, leaves gates open or commits a criminal offence will be treated as a trespasser and barred from entering the land for the next 72 hours. The Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales are preparing guidance and formal codes of practice for land users, owners and managers to explain the new rights and responsibilities. Until these guidelines are published, walkers should follow the country code.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHERE TO FIND ACCESS LAND?
n addition to new Ordnance Survey, maps showing access land, the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales will produce information on access opportunities and restrictions. This information will be published and distributed nationally in various guides, booklets, leaflets, and over the Internet. Access information will also be available locally through tourist information offices, the local media, pubs, shops and at information points near access land.
WHAT CAN I DO ON ACCESS LAND?
he new law provides a right of access for walkers only. It does not confer any additional tights for cyclists or horse riders. Dogs are permitted on some areas of open country, but must be kept on short fixed leads on access land between 1 March and 31 July and at any time in the vicinity of livestock. Furthermore, dogs may be banned temporarily or permanently from some areas of land. Camping and organised games are prohibited except with the permission of the landowner. Access at night is permitted but may be subject to local restrictions. Walkers are responsible for their own safety at all times.
HOW WILL ACCESS BE MANAGED LOCALLY?
ocal countryside access fora, made tip of landowners, users and others with an interest in the land, will be established to advise the countryside agencies and national park authorities on restrictions and how the new law will be applied generally on a local basis. Specific access needs and concerns can be addressed through local countryside access fora or bylaws. Local authorities, including National Parks, have die power to enact and enforce bylaws which will apply to open access land in their jurisdiction subject to consultation with the relevant local access forum and countryside body.
HOW WILL I FIND OUT ABOUT LOCAL CLOSURES AND RESTRICTIONS?
nformation on local closures and restrictions will be obtainable from the relevant local authority. If bylaws apply, notices may be displayed at information points near the relevant area of access land. Information about local regulations will also be made available by the countryside agencies through tourist information offices, the local media, pubs, shops and at information points near access land.
WILL LANDOWNERS BE ABLE TO CLOSE THEIR LAND FOR ANY REASON?
he Act allows landowners to close their land for up to 28 days a year (including some Saturdays and Sundays) for any reason. The countryside agencies should be informed of these closures and can pass the information on to the public. Landowners may also apply to the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales for further closures or restrictions, on a temporary or permanent basis, to protect wildlife or areas of historic interest, for health and safety, military purposes, or for land management.
WILL LANDOWNERS AND FARMERS BENEFIT FROM THIS LEGISLATION?
andowners will benefit from this legislation in several ways. The new law allows landowners to close or restrict access to their land for up to 28 days per year. Restrictions can be put in place should any conflict arise. Occupier's liability towards walkers on access land has been lowered significantly. Landowners may also benefit from wardening services, and the practical costs resulting from the Act. For example, the cost of the erection of signs will be met by the countryside agencies. Finally, the benefits from tourism could be enormous for rural areas. It is likely that the new Act will encourage more people to visit the countryside for day trips or holidays, therefore bringing more revenue into rural areas and helping to create jobs.
WILL A FREEDOM TO ROAM DAMAGE THE ENVIRONMENT?
n general there is no irreconcilable conflict between a freedom to roam and wildlife. The new Act allows land to be closed to protect wildlife habitats, flora and fauna, or for conservation reasons. The Act includes measures to protect wildlife and the environment and in particular Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Furthermore, allowing access will encourage people to learn to enjoy, respect, and therefore protect the environment
DON'T FOOTPATHS PROVIDE ENOUGH PLACES TO WALK?
reedom to roam is different from walking on public paths. A freedom to roam will provide the public with the opportunity to wander, responsibly, away from paths without being accused of trespass, and to see and visit particular views or special features. For many people, the pleasure of walking is to get away from the beaten track and enjoy the delights of the open countryside. And in many places, there are no paths to take us over open country.
Access to Scotland's countryside
here is a long-established de facto right to roam in the Scottish hills which has a strong legal basis. It is expected that the Scottish Parliament will shortly enshrine this tradition in new access legislation. This will guarantee freedom of access for informal recreation to most of Scotland's countryside providing this is exercised responsibly, taking due account of conservation and management needs. Freedom of access should be exercised with care. When crossing cultivated land, try to use paths or tracks or field margins. Use gates whenever possible but where walls or fences have to be crossed, do so carefully to avoid damage to the structure. Further guidance on using the countryside responsibly should be available in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. This is expected to accompany the right of access when it is approved by the Scottish Parliament The aim of the proposed Code is to show, how recreational users. land managers and public bodies can help each other to make sure the right of access works well on the ground.