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The Open Spaces Society has long campaigned for responsible freedom to roam away from public paths in England and Wales. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000 went some way towards achieving this, but the rights were only for walkers and were limited to registered commons, and mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath and down. Much suitable land was excluded. So we welcome the new right-to-roam campaign and Nick Hayes’s The Book of Trespass, which highlight the need for greater access to our countryside.
Making CROW better
The CROW Act opened up large areas of land in the north and west but the south and east were largely neglected. The mapping of downland under the CROW Act was deplorably exclusive, there is much open grassland which should qualify for CROW access.
Also, many areas of CROW access land are completely inaccessible because they have no legal access to them; these should be connected to paths or other areas of access land with ample access points so that people can enjoy them.
CROW rights should be extended to other users where appropriate.
Countryside in and around towns
There should be greater freedom to roam close to towns and cities, where people need it. We have argued for a better deal for parks and greens spaces in our Open Spaces Charters for England and Wales.
There should be much greater access to the green belt, where many people would like to walk, ride and cycle.
Woods and forests
We also believe that people should have more rights to wander, ride and bike in woods and forests. The Forestry Commission set an excellent example by dedicating its woodlands for access under the CROW Act, and we consider that other woodland owners should do likewise.
Watersides and in the water
There is scope for greater access along riverbanks and beside lakes and reservoirs, following the model of the England Coast Path which has alongside it an area of access land stretching down to the shore and inland to the nearest boundary. Kayaks and canoes should have rights of access on rivers, and there should be legal means of access to the water.
More and better paths
Paths are the arteries of the countryside, and will always be the most popular means by which people gain access. We hope that the new environmental land management schemes (see our response here) will provide for more and better paths and access land, but that is only the start. There needs to be a campaign to make it happen.
No criminalisation of trespass
The society has slated plans to make innocent trespass a criminal offence and will continue to fight this resolutely.