17 November 1999
Queen’s Speech promises ‘right to roam’

By Isabel Davies

GREATER public access to the countryside was promised today (Wednesday) in the Queens Speech at the opening of Parliament.

A Countryside Amenity and Conservation Bill – in Labours legislative programme for the next Parliamentary session – is expected to give the public the right to roam across all mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land in England and Wales.

Full details will not be available until next year.

The bill will also include new measures to improve protection of wildlife – including custodial sentences – and penalties will be increased for landowners who destroy Sites of Special Scientific interest.

Commenting on the announcement, environment minister Michael Meacher said: “We want to extend rights of access and improve rights of way, so more people will be able to explore the countryside.”

He stressed: “Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, and we expect people to respect the countryside and the people whose livelihoods depend on it.”

But the initial reaction from Anthony Bosanquet, president of the Country Landowners Association, was that it was a promise of rights with no responsibilities.

He challenged the government to answer questions about issues like liability, how some farmers were meant to be able to cope with unlimited visitors and whether the right to roam would be extended to woodland and riverside.

Kate Ashbrook, head of the Ramblers Association freedom to roam campaign, described the announcement as groundbreaking news.

“The government has long promised a freedom to roam and now it has delivered,” she said.