8 December 2000

Rights of Way Act is now law but…

By Isabel Davies

THE government has succeeded in getting its Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Bill onto the statute book but landowners are stressing that walkers do not have any right to roam yet.

Although the controversial Bill received Royal Assent last week (Thurs, Nov 30), until the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales map the land affected, the Act exists only in principle.

"All youve got is an Act, a piece of paper," said Alan Woods, Country Landowners Association deputy policy director.

"There is a huge amount of work to be done to flesh out the legislation. The government knows there is plenty to do – its target for having the new right in place is the end of 2005."

Countryside Agency deputy chairman Pam Warhurst said the agency was keen to get on with the job but it was important to make the implementation of the bill acceptable to all concerned.

"Our priority will be to make the arrangements work well on the ground so that people can feel confident about using their new rights and the impact on farmers and landowners will be minimal."

But the Farmers Union of Wales has already raised questions about how successful the mapping exercise will be.

Giving evidence to the Welsh Assemblys environment select committee last week, the unions land use officer Rhian Nowell-Phillips drew attention to the problem of developing a definition of "open country".

"The FUW cannot envisage how mapping will provide a simple definition of open countryside which will be immediately recognisable by the general public and acceptable to the farming community."

The Ramblers Association acknowledged that the provisions were not yet in force but said there was still reason to celebrate.

Kate Ashbrook, chairman of the RAs access campaign said: "People have called for greater access to the countryside for more than 100 years. This Act is a gift to the British public for which we will all be grateful for centuries to come."

English Nature said the wildlife provisions in the bill would help reverse the declining condition of many special sites. It believed the bill was major new tool to protect and improve nationally important wildlife sites.