21 September 1998
Right-to-roam ramblers target PM’s country seat

By FWi staff

RAMBLERS walked across the Prime Ministers country estate yesterday (Sunday) during a day of action supported by hundreds of people across the country.

The ramblers want the Government to honour its pre-election promise to introduce a statutory right-to-roam across uncultivated land.

About 250 ramblers gathered at the foot of Beacon Hill in Buckinghamshire before embarking on a seven-mile walk. The hill is part of the Prime Ministers Chequers estate and is currently forbidden to walkers.

The Chequers walk was one of a series of protest-walks attended by hundreds of ramblers in Devon, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Surrey.

Many farmers are opposed to right-to-roam legislation. Instead, they favour voluntary access and local agreements between ramblers and individual landowners.

Government ministers have given the landowners a maximum of two years to show that voluntary access can work. But legislation to enforce a right-to-roam could be introduced if too little is done to open up footpaths.

Earlier this summer, the Government ended consultation on whether to introduce statutory right-to-roam legislation. It is now considering the arguments for and against before announcing a decision.

Meanwhile, the Country Landowners Association (CLA), which is vehemently opposed to a right to roam, is coming under increased criticism from ramblers groups.

This weekend, the Ramblers Association accused the CLA of “conning the Government” by including roads open only to commercial traffic in its register of land supposedly open to the public.

And last month it emerged that the only direct result of a CLA scheme to open up more land was 20 acres and eight miles of paths belonging to CLA president Ian MacNicol.

The scheme was set up last year with £70,000 of public money

The CLA, however, fears that farmers will be forced to pick up the bill if the Government introduces right-to-roam legislation. It fears increased vandalsim and theft if more people are allowed on to farms.

It claims that landowners would face additional insurance costs and says that voluntary access could work if more landowners signed up.