WALKERS HAVE been given the right to roam across 68,000ha (168,000 acres) in the south of England, but they have been told that they must respect the needs of farmers.

DEFRA announced on Tuesday (Dec 14) that southern England was the third region of the country to be opened up the under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

The region covers South Glos, Bristol, Bath, north-east Somerset, Wilts, Berks, Dorset, Hants and the Isle of Wight. The land affected is mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.

Junior DEFRA minister Alun Michael said it was a special day for everyone who loved the countryside.

“Southern England has a wealth of open countryside which everyone has a right to enjoy. The CROW Act gives everyone the opportunity to do just that, but I hope people make the most of it bearing in mind that it is important to respect the needs of land managers.”

The NFU and Country Land and Business Association reinforced that.

Union president Tim Bennett said walkers must be responsible, take litter home with them and keep dogs under control. “It must be remembered that as well as being a beautiful place to visit, the countryside is a workplace, home to farm animals and a haven for wildlife,” he said.

CLA president Mark Hudson added: “We urge people to remember this is not a general right to roam: It is access to mapped areas of land which may be temporarily closed for safety and land management reasons. Visitors can help care for the countryside by supporting local shops and businesses. But the most important thing that people can do is check the access website, check the new maps and check the local information points to see where they can go.”

The Countryside Agency has divided England into eight regions so it can be mapped for access purposes. All regions should be open to walkers by the end of 2005.

It is estimated that 1m hectares (2.4m acres) will be mapped as access land and of this 800,000ha (1.9m acres) will be land which was not previously open to ramblers.

The new right allows people to walk, bird-watch, climb and run, but does not include activities such as riding a horse or bicycle, camping or driving a vehicle.