3 March 2000
Government introduces right to roam

By FWi staff

THE government has published its long-awaited Countryside Bill, which gives ramblers the right to roam across four million acres of open countryside.

The Bill, which fulfils the governments commitment to boost rural access, was unveiled by environment minister Michael Meacher on Friday (3 March).

It creates a new right of public access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land across the country.

Much of the area, which covers about one-ninth of Britains land, will be opened up to the public for the first time, said Mr Meacher.

The Bill included safeguards so that landowners and occupiers can continue to use land to its best advantage and wildlife can be protected, he added.

“This is a historic Bill. For the first time in 50 years a huge increase will be created in access to the open countryside.

“It is matched by the most radical improvement to rights of ways for many years.”

Landowners will be allowed to dedicate land voluntarily for public access, giving access to areas not covered by the Bill, such as woodland and riverside.

Local authorities must draw up plans to improve rights of way networks; new measures to get obstructions removed from rights of way will be introduced.

Over 4000 miles of rights of way will be redesignated as a new category of public highway for all traffic, except motorised vehicles.

The government believes the move will give more certainty to horse riders, walkers, cyclists and drivers of horse-drawn carriages.

The Bill also gives conservation agencies the power to prevent damaging activities to wildlife on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

A new offence of reckless disturbance against wildlife will see fines to up to 5000 and prison sentences of up to six months for virtually all wildlife offences.

Mr Meacher said further measures will be proposed as government amendments to the Bill to provide powers to divert rights of way to protect SSSIs.

Local authorities the power to make temporary diversions of rights of way, in exceptional circumstances, such as plant disease.