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Right to Roam could be the wrong path…



I completely understand the emotional pull of the right to roam argument and I find it difficult to be opposed to such a utopian dream. The fact is, however, that over the vast majority of England and Wales we do have good access. Yes, there are islands of CROW land which need connecting. Yes, access could be extended to woodlands and riverbanks. I'm sure there are other places too.  Dead end Rights of Way and Rights of Way that change from one type to another all need sorting out. But what we have here that is very, very special is our public footpaths and public bridleways network.


The Rights of Way network of England and Wales is envied by many across the world. They are precious and should be treated as such by all of us. For me the conversation should revolve around connecting CROW land, connecting places and connecting the wilder parts of our country by modifications to our existing Rights of Way. I would argue that all Rights of Way should be passable; should be well maintained and should all be invested in. Our existing Rights of Way should be seen to be as important as those tarmacked highways that criss-cross both England and Wales.


The money that has been saved on HS2 is being promised to all sorts of schemes such as road surfacing, by- passes and bus stations. It would not take an enormous amount of that money for us to tidy up our Rights of Way network. And tidying up it does need. There are Rights of Way that go nowhere. There are Rights of Way that start out as a footpath and turn into a bridleway and vice versa. There are footpaths that look like bridleways and should be bridleways. There are bridleways that look like footpaths and should be footpaths. There are footpaths that are falling to pieces due to overgrazing, high rainfall and heavy usage. There are styles collapsing, gates that don’t work and a lack of signage. There are Rights of Way that have been blocked by natural causes and human causes. There are many missing links in the network.


I am not sure I agree with the calls for a Scottish style access to everywhere in Wales and England.  I fear that a right to roam across England and Wales could have negative consequences for our existing Rights of Way network. If we have a right to roam across open country, agricultural land, along riverbanks and through woodlands.


·       If we could wander ‘at will’ anywhere that isn't in the curtilage of someone’s property, then where is the incentive to maintain the existing Rights of Way?


There is also the issue of responsible access. I'm quite sure everybody reading this will be more than aware of the responsibilities that go with any form of access. But the wider public are not well drilled in the countryside code. We see this along roadside verges and across our land. There is a disrespect for the country in which we live by many people. The greatest fear for many farmers is dogs out of control and the chasing of livestock. Second to this is gates being left open. A right to roam will be a nightmare scenario for many of our farmers and is unnecessary for you and me.



·       The right to roam could easily be seen as a licence to go anywhere, do anything, without responsibility by many of those people who are not literate in the ways of the countryside.


So, I hesitate to call for a general Scottish style right to roam in Wales and England. I call for serious investment in our existing public Rights of Way. What’s more this is far more achievable as it benefits landowners as well as walkers and riders.







If you look at a map and there's a road on it, you can be pretty sure you'll be able to drive your motor vehicle along that road. Now look at the same map again, look at the footpaths – what are the chances of being able to walk all the footpaths on that map? It can be even worse with bridleways. Look at the bridleways on the map. What are the chances of you being able to ride a bike or ride a horse along about bridleway? All too often paths and bridleways are not passable. They are blocked, overgrown or the surface is in very poor state. Now imagine a world where you could look at a footpath on a map, or a bridleway, and know that you’d be able to access freely along that right away, without adversely impacting on those using the land around. That is where our movement should be heading.


What do you think?

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I agree Mike - I don’t think the term is very helpful , it’s much too vague & arguably contentious. The ROW network where I live in N Powys is in a shocking state. I have emailed Powys Council a few times about specific problems e.g the Perindod Mellangell walk which on the section through the Llechwed forest is covered in old brash from logging. The response is always wishy washy excuses . The other inexcusable issue is the number of padlocked gates on bridle ways. On a more positive note , here in the village a large group of is have volunteered to do the necessary work such as installing metal kissing gates supplied by the Council - w…

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Interesting blog post Mike - I think any push for a right to roam that neglects to acknowledge and support our path network is inherently flawed. They are our most valuable asset, and I feel that any 'right to roam' legislation should also provide targeted support for path networks, as well as abolishing the 2031 deadline for historic rights of way. On the other hand, they are themselves largely the legacy of historic acts of enclosure - there is some irony there I think. In Scotland they have never enjoyed a network like we have, but from what I've seen, the Land Reform Act enabled them to start opening up new paths in order to manage the wider access that they are…

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Thanks - likewise I agree with you for the most part. I've had similar conversations with friends at the Ramblers and OSS society and I suppose it's largely a question of where to allocate resources most urgently. In these times of austerity that's probably fair enough.

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