Polling carried out for the Countryside Alliance found that 52% of people asked feel there is “about the right amount” of access land in Wales, and a further 5% thought that there is “too much”.
The YouGov poll surveyed 1,102 Welsh adults, of which 205 were living in a rural area. The polling was conducted between 1 and 5 February 2016.
The Countryside and Rights of Way (Crow) Act ensures that people have the right of access (on foot) to more than 350,000ha of open country and registered common land in Wales.
The total area with rights of access, including public forests, is 451,000ha (22% of Wales). This is on top of significant areas of local permissive access, many beaches, towpaths and about 25,000 miles of public rights of way.
Last summer, the Labour-run Welsh government launched a consultation on increasing access to the outdoors for responsible recreation. The results of the consultation have not yet been released.
Commenting on the results of the YouGov survey, Rachel Evans, director for the Countryside Alliance in Wales, said: “The countryside underpins our tourism sector, is a place of recreation, a larder and, as importantly, a place of work.
“I foresee pressure on landowners in the next government to provide more land and water for outdoor recreation, but is there really a need? Our polling shows that 53% of urban dwellers feel enough access land is already available.”
CLA Cymru has warned about the harm involved in forcing landowners to allow people unlimited access to farms and other private land.
Its chairman, Ant Griffith, said there were risks of allowing unfettered access to all land in the countryside – otherwise known as “right to roam” laws.
“If landowners are forced to accept that the general public can walk on any field or private land it will create safety risks, especially on livestock farms,” he said.
“It will also mean that rather than having a manageable amount of public access, landowners will be overwhelmed and unable to make vital investments in their home and business.”
National Sheep Association concerns
The National Sheep Association (NSA) said there were “huge concerns’ from farmers and landowners in Wales about the proposed open-access charter. It urged the government not to rush a decision before issues were fully considered.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Since 2005 there has been a threefold increase in land available for recreation, including open access and statutory and voluntary pathways. The problem is that much of this access is unused or poorly understood.
“Farmers have been encouraged to invest in providing access and countryside activities, as a means of diversification to protect against market volatility. To undermine this investment, when it is not being fully utilised, is unnecessary; better promotion of land that’s already open for access should be the priority.”
Fearing the Welsh government may push legislation through ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections in May, the NSA is concerned that all associated issues have not been given proper consideration.
Mr Stocker added: “Open access to land presents many problems to existing and legitimate land management and farming activities.
“Sheep worrying by dogs, the spread of parasites via unwormed dogs, gates being left open, erosion of sensitive habitats and disruption to nesting birds – these are all serious problems that will inevitably increase if open access to the Welsh countryside is granted.”
In addition, the NSA is concerned about public liability given the danger livestock and machinery can present, and is also worried about the threat to farm security with rural crime and theft already being a significant problem.