Right to Roam: 'landowners infuriated'

Ecovillage Network UK office at evnuk.org.uk
Mon Oct 31 14:45:55 GMT 2005

Western Daily Press
09:51 - 01 November 2005
It has cost more than £83million, taken five years and sparked thousands 
of legal battles. But today, as the final parts of the West countryside 
are opened to all, TRISTAN CORK asks, was it a good deal?

ALAN Bentley looked out over the beautiful Severn Vale from his lofty 
point on the Cotswold edge on a day he waited long to see. Like a 
substitute waiting to get a game, this rights of way boss from 
Gloucestershire County Council watched all the other counties in the 
West Country being touched by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (Crow).

Walk on the wild side

Yesterday, on Halloween, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire were the last 
to be opened up under controversial new access laws. It should have been 
a day for rejoicing at the prospect of thousands of acres being 
accessible to the public for the first time in history.

But Alan, choosing his words carefully, is at pains to stress that Crow, 
as it is known, is not what people perceive it to be.

"It's important to dispel the notion that this legislation creates a 
'right to roam', " he said.

"It is, in fact, a right of access on foot to certain areas of land.

And along with this new right comes responsibilities to respect and 
protect the countryside." The final area - the West of England - opened 
up yesterday. It followed south central (Wiltshire, Dorset, the former 
Avon and much of Somerset) before Christmas last year, with the rest of 
the South West opening two months ago.

Each time that happened, countryside Ministers stepped out on to newly 
opened land, trumpeting the "right to roam" and the "open access" success.

That infuriated landowners, already veterans of thousands of individual 
battles over each scrap of contentious land. It was not, they said, a 
"right to roam" - and the Government touting it as such was dangerously 

Landowners said people were being misled into thinking the whole of the 
countryside was open, and that even the land designated for open access 
would be open all the time - both not true.

And they also point out that much of the land now open was open before - 
and the new open land will be closed for many days of the year because 
of a range of exemptions for landowners.

BEFORE Crow, landowners said they were allowing access to more than a 
million hectares - at no cost to the taxpayer.

"Defra's original appraisals estimated that 1.6million hectares would be 
mapped, " explained a Country Land and Business Association (CLA) 
spokesman yesterday. "But the actual result is 1.26million. Only about 
798,000 hectares of that is actually new access land, and this is 
further reduced due to temporary restrictions and closures.

"For example, 40,000 hectares that Crow opened up, much of it in 
Wiltshire, is owned by the Ministry of Defence and is still out of 
bounds." So yesterday, as the final, triumphant piece of the 
Government's jigsaw fell into place, Ministers changed their tune.

South Dorset MP and Rural Minister Jim Knight chose his words carefully.

"The Crow Act strikes a careful balance between the wishes of people to 
walk on access land and the needs of landowners and managers, " he said.

"However, along with this new right of access comes responsibility. I am 
encouraging walkers and visitors to follow the Countryside Code and 
signs, keep their dogs under control and find out about any restrictions 
on access which were in place."

THE Government's change of emphasis is a consolation goal for the 
defeated landowners.

They objected to Crow from the start, then supported individual farmers 
when the Countryside Agency produced maps showing which parts of the 
West would be opened.

Across England, there were more than 3,500 challenges to the mapping, 
with perhaps the most high-profile one from Madonna and Guy Ritchie on 
their Wiltshire estate last year.

The Queen of Pop settled for a draw with the Countryside Agency - about 
half her estate is now open access.

But battles rage on. Down on Dartmoor, landowners worried about any 
insurance liabilities if townie visitors fall off the famous tors are 
digging in.

Everyone from explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes to the Prince of Wales has 
had success appealing against the inclusion of their land in the West.

The appeals and mapping process cost the Government the grand total of 
£83.5million, and yesterday the CLA wondered if it was worth it.

"There is no evidence that the Crow Act is benefiting the rural economy, 
" said CLA president Mark Hudson.

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