The English countryside is a ‘place of business’ and already has ‘hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpaths’, a minister has said in response to questions about why the ‘roaming right’ report has been set aside.
The comments from House leader Mark Spencer came as campaign groups expressed fury at the Treasury’s decision to suspend the review, which was tasked with seeking a ‘quantum shift in the way our company helps people access and engage with the outdoors”.
The review, led by Lord Agnew, had included a potential extension of the hotly contested ‘roaming right’, which campaigners fear will not materialise. In response, campaigners are planning mass intrusions to raise awareness of the amount of prohibited English land. Roaming rights only exist in 8% of the territory.
Spencer made the remarks after Green MP Caroline Lucas asked why responses to the Agnew report aimed at making the campaign more publicly accessible would not be published.
He said: “I think we are blessed in this country with hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpaths to get people into the countryside. We must recognize that the countryside is not only a place of recreation, but it is also a place of business and food production.
Lucas replied: “Totally weak ‘defense’ from the head of the house on the government’s cancellation of the roaming law review. Work and leisure are not incompatible, is that really the excuse of the government ?
Ninety-two percent of English land is privately owned and not accessible. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 grants a legal right of public access to mountains, moorland, moorland, certain shallows and commons, and the English Coastal Path. Campaigners have called for this to be extended to cover rivers, woodlands and green belt land. Ninety-seven percent of the rivers are closed to the public and tens of thousands of hectares of woodland have benefited from public subsidies but remain inaccessible to the public.
This weekend, the Right to Roam campaign celebrates the 90th anniversary of the 1932 Kinder Trespass, when hundreds of activists marched on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. They were there to highlight the fact that walkers in England and Wales were being denied access to open countryside.
A group of hikers will head to Kinder Scout on Sunday for a Kinder in Color event, which will be led by people of color.
Organizers said: “Even with a small amount of rights of way available to hikers, the countryside is still plagued by barriers to access, particularly for black people and people of colour. With this in mind, we want to celebrate the Kinder Scout heritage by creating a new culture for the campaign, one that is fully inclusive and embraces differences.
The Right to Roam campaign foresees a series of mass intrusions planned between May and September, including in Totnes on May 8 and West Berkshire May 14with more to follow.
James MacColl, head of policy, advocacy and campaigns for the Ramblers, said the UK government was not doing enough to improve access to the campaign.
He explained: “The government…does not use its own powers under the Environment Act to set public access targets. Its new farm payments scheme shows no sign of rewarding farmers for improving access to their land, despite repeated promises. Proposed changes to the planning system do not prioritize access to nature.
“As the Ramblers continue to campaign for access rights, this weekend we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass, a historic protest on the road to improving access in the countryside for everyone.
“Access to these open green spaces is still currently very limited and patchy and Ramblers want to see the government extend the freedom to move across England and Wales so that it is more easily accessible and better connected. to our trail system and our cities. .”