2 February 1996

Hard fight against freedom to roam

FARMERS face an uphill battle to stop walkers gaining the right to roam after the House of Commons voted by more than two to one to back a private members countryside access bill.

MPs voted to support Paddy Tippings (Lab, Sherwood) 10-minute rule bill, which proposed giving ramblers freedom to roam on uncultivated land in England and Wales, subject to certain restrictions, by 144 votes to 60.

Delighted Ramblers Association chairman, Kate Ashbrook, said it was the first Commons vote in living memory for freedom to roam.

But farming organisations were disappointed, claiming the bill was flawed. Dr Alan Woods, Country Landowners Association environment adviser, said that in a densely populated country "right to roam" was not a realistic option.

"It assumes that walking should be given priority over such land uses as agriculture, forestry, game management and nature conservation. Access by agreement has to be the right approach." Sue Viner, NFU countryside adviser, said the NFU was keen to progress its proposals for managed access to meet the demands of a rising number of visitors. The union is concerned that if the Bill becomes law it will create new access to open country and will abolish the civil offence of trespass for people walking on open country.

Although the Bill is unlikely to proceed further in the present parliament, Labour has committed itself to support "freedom to roam" if it comes to power. &#42