Walkers confused on access

MORE THAN one in 10 people believe they will have a right to roam anywhere in the countryside when new rules governing open access land come into force later this month.

The survey, by pollsters ICM, reveals that 11% of the population believes the Countryside and Rights of Way Act means they will be able to walk wherever they want.

The Act is due to come into force in the first two areas of the country on National Walking Day – Sun (Sept 19).

Less than half of the population (46%) understands the meaning of the new rights, which will give the public limited access to mountain, moor, down and registered common land.

A substantial 40% mistakenly think the law only gives them the right to walk on any public footpath, according to the survey commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

The remaining 3% of people said they didn’t know.

CLA president Mark Hudson said: “It is obvious that more people are becoming aware that they have a new right of access to certain areas of the countryside.

“But we are not confident the public knows how to find out precisely where they can go.”

The first two areas to be opened up will be parts of south-east England, including Kent, Surrey, and Sussex; and a large area defined as the lower north-west.

The rest of England and Wales will follow in the next 15 months.

With just over a week to go before the launch, Mr Hudson said farmers and landowners should double check the new Ordnance Survey Explorer maps for walkers.

There was a need to educate the public on the intricacies of the new law, he added.

“We want to work with other organisations to ensure people can exercise their rights safely and in a way that supports rather than hampers farms and rural businesses.”

A DEFRA spokesman told FARMERS WEEKLY that officials had held media briefings and a website had been set up by the Countryside Agency to explain where people can go.

But CLA staff in the south west of England pointed out that the general public are in some cases already walking on land not open for access.

CLA rural surveyor Caroline Bedell said the myriad of dates on which land would open in the south west – between Dec 2004 and Nov 2005 – would confuse the public.

“There is a general lack of awareness which is going to cause problems,” she said.

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