What is right to roam UK?
The right to roam sometimes referred to as right of access is an act within the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW). CRoW amended the law relating to public rights of way along with those laws relating to conservation of nature and the protection of wildlife.
The big change and what I will be concentrating on is ‘right to roam’. This act basically provides open access to areas of land such as mountains, moors, heaths and downs along with areas registered as common land for recreational purposes such as running, walking, climbing and nature watching.
Identifying open access areas
Natural England have an interactive map available which details open access areas across England. Put in the area or post code you are interested in and the map will display available open access areas. Unfortunately it would appear that many people seem to have heard about the right to roam but not about the restrictions and responsibilities involved.
I’ve got the ‘Right’ to Roam!
Millions of people access the countryside and have done for many years using the miles of footpaths, bridleways, byways, permitted paths etc. And for all of these years farmers have dealt with the litter, open gates, escaped stock, damaged fences, fires, destruction of habitats and damaged crops that the people leave behind.
The CRoW now gives people a ‘right’ and to many people that right is the right to roam where they please and to try and explain to someone that this field contains crops which they are not allowed in will often be met with the words “I’ve got the ‘right’, you can’t stop me!”
What’s the problem?
In a survey by the National Sheep Association in 2017, 56% of respondents stated that the majority of sheep worrying incidents occurred in private enclosed fields with no footpath. The number of sheep worrying incidents is increasing every year and is completely unacceptable. Please see my article on sheep worrying for more details.
CRoW states that “mountain, moor, heath or down” does not include land which consists of improved or semi-improved grassland. Now I am quite confident that to many visitors to the countryside grass is grass and will not be able to identify the difference between mountain, moor, heath, down, improved or semi improved grassland.
Then we have people who come to the countryside to have their barbeques. The litter left from behind by families having barbeques is unbelievable, in the urban parks, there are litter bins and people employed to empty the bins and pick up rubbish. This is not the case in the countryside, the litter left behind can and does kill livestock and wildlife.
Just doing a quick search brought up a fire covering 10 acres on the Isle of Sky on April 24th 2019 – a large heath fire Burton near Christchurch 21st April 2019 – a moor fire covering six square miles in West Yorkshire, 26th April 2019 – ‘apocalyptic’ moor fire in West Yorkshire covering 1.5 square km, caused by barbeque.
The damage done by these fires will be immense, habitats will be lost, wildlife killed, species endangered and the financial implications are also huge – these types of fire demand a massive fire fighting presence with time recorded by the day rather than by the hour.
It has to be more than a coincidence that the sheep worrying and fires and general damage to the countryside has increased to records levels since the right to roam was put in place. The countryside should be enjoyed, but it is not a playground, it is a place of work and a huge habitat for our flora and fauna which demands respect and understanding from those that wish to spend time there.
The minority spoil it for the majority
As is often the case unfortunately, it is the minority of people who spoil things for the majority. Most people visiting and enjoying the countryside are able to do so whilst showing some understanding and respect for the environment they are in. But it is the minority who do the damage, the minority that make news headlines and the minority that provide a divide between those that live and work in the countryside and those that wish to visit the countryside.
What should be a great idea, to let people access the countryside and get closer to the way our food is produced and hopefully get a better understanding of the management that is involved in maintaining the vital habitats and environments that make up our diverse countryside is doomed to failure if people do not treat it with respect.
If there is not a swift change in attitude from those people abusing the right to access the countryside I believe the right to roam must be revoked. Some education must be given to the public, tv adverts are expensive but is minimal compared to the animal cruelty, destruction of habitats and the losses faced by farmers. If the government wishes to continue with the right to roam, they should produce a series of short information films highlighting the impact people can have on the countryside.
What do you think?
Should people have the right to roam? Is more education the answer? Please let me know you thoughts by commenting below.
Thanks for reading
Justin – founder of twitway.com