16 November 2001

Right-to-roam goodwill plea

RURAL affairs minister Alun Michael has urged farmers to approach with goodwill and understanding the consultation on draft maps for the right-to-roam.

Mr Michael said if farmers and walkers both approached the exercise with goodwill it would be possible to increase the sense that people were welcome in the countryside. "I think that in some quarters there has been an antagonism between town and country and that is not good for anybody," he said.

The Countryside Agency unveiled draft maps for the south east and lower north west of England on Nov 12. The maps, which cover a total of 16% of the country, will be available on the internet, at local authority offices and will also be sent to every parish council.

Mr Michael described the day as a landmark occasion. "These draft maps are the first step in a consultative process which will culminate in the issue of conclusive maps of open country and registered common land from 2003 onwards."

Mediaeval approach

There were some farmers who were obstructive and said they did not want anyone on their land. "But that is a mediaeval approach to access and I think that most farmers have an increasing understanding… that it involves responsibility on both sides."

Bob Roberts, head of the Countryside Agencys "wider welcome" team, repeated the message that farmers could benefit from wider access arrangements. "We do genuinely believe this could bring quite significant economic benefits," he said.

But problems seem to be emerging already. The Country Land and Business Association said its first impression was that the draft maps were inaccurate. CLA regional director Peter Geldart said: "We therefore cannot stress too strongly how important it is that landowners and farmers check the maps and take a full part in the consultation process." &#42