24 May 1996

Roaming policy makes the way ahead unclear

By Tony McDougal

LANDOWNERS clashed with ramblers over the right to roam principle at the launch in London on Tuesday of the Country Landowners Associations new access initiative Access 2000.

The CLA stressed the way forward to increase access to the countryside was through voluntary agreements between an alliance of countryside organisations, farmers and landowners.

It rejected any right to roam strategy, saying it would be impractical, not be credible to landowners and would be difficult to define.

But the Ramblers Association, which is committed to a qualified right to roam policy, said voluntary agreements had not worked in the past as landowners had been unhappy to discuss opening up farms and estates. It claimed campaigns to open up the Peak District and Forest of Bowland had failed because of landowners intransigence.

Ian MacNicol, CLA vice-president, said he wanted the Access 2000 partnership to set specific access targets which would go beyond provisional targets put forward in the governments Rural White Paper. "We want to secure a continuing net gain of the quality, diversity and quantity of managed access."

Dr Alan Woods, CLA access policy co-ordinator, said a forum, which will be set up following a conference in the autumn, would look at a number of issues. Those included:

&#8226 Identify and harness new funding sources.

&#8226 Tackle the issue of public liability.

&#8226 Deal with some of the negative effects of access such as vandalism, livestock welfare and environmental degradation.

&#8226 Secure new resources to develop countryside ranger services.

Tony Bailey, CLA director of policy, said finance for the scheme depended on changes to the CAP and moves from food to environmental subsidies. But he hoped a tripartheid funding system, involving government, local organisations and the CLA, would be set up.

The CLA welcomed the Labour Partys recent relaxation of policies for right to roam legislation, which stressed that the needs of environmental land management must be taken into account. It was further reinforced at the conference by Labour peer Baroness Nicol, who backed the Access partnership policy and said the party wanted to take part in profitable discussions.

The CLA claimed that an additional 0.54m ha (220,000 acres) of voluntary access had been added through government agency agreements, notably the countryside stewardship scheme, since 1990.

But David Beskine, RA spokesman, said much of these did not satisfy the changing demands of the wide variety of users, and criticised landowners for adopting a footpath rationalisation scheme.

&#8226 Lack of access agreements over the sale of land by the Forestry Commission to landowners came under fire from the Ramblers Association. David Beskine, Ramblers Association director of access, claimed only 36 access agreements had been reached out of 2000 sales across the UK.

Studying the path ahead: CLA president Ewen Cameron (left) and vice-president Ian McNicol read the document launching Access 2000.