09 March 1999
Right to roam —
The biggest change in 200 years
By FWi staff
THE announcement of a right to roam is the probably the biggest change to countryside access laws since the enclosures of the nineteenth century.
In promising a right to roam, Environment Minister Michael Meacher yesterday (Monday) pledged to open up millions of acres “still the preserve of the few, not the delight of the many.”
The new statutory right of access will apply to about four million acres, but not to any developed land nor to agricultural land other than that used for extensive grazing.
The right to roam will apply to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land and may be extended to some woodland.
It will be coupled with clear responsibilities for walkers to respect the rights of landowners and managers.
The package of changes for in England and Wales will include a new general statutory right of access to open countryside and improvements to the rights of way system.
New local access forums will bring together all those with an interest, including farmers, landowners and conservationists, to agree how access should be managed.
The government claims the package will provide opportunities for walking and other recreational pursuits, while maintaining the legitimate interests of land managers.
Land managers will be able to close access land for short periods, subject to an annual limit, without prior specific permission.
Statutory bodies will also be able to close land in the interests of health and safety, defence, wildlife, heritage or land management.
Dogs will be allowed only on leads, with tighter restrictions where necessary.
The Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales will prepare codes of practice for walkers and land managers, setting out their rights and responsibilities.
Landowners will have no greater liability towards those exercising the right of access than if they were trespassers but there will be no compensation for allowing access.
New access forums at both national and local level will play a key part in ensuring that the demands of users are balanced against the needs of land managers.