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Rights of Way or Right to Roam?

The Right to Roam campaign has been getting quite a bit of mileage and publicity recently. It's also on the agenda of the, currently being held, Labour Party conference. It's a campaign that's been around for a while particularly since Guy Shrubsole's fascinating book; ‘Who owns England?’. It gained momentum with the recent kerfuffle around wild camping on Dartmoor. It's a campaign that I should be fully behind and we all, as walkers and climbers, probably should be supporting. It does however make me slightly uneasy. Across England and Wales there is an excellent network of public rights of way. All these rights of way are historical and worthy of attention. It can be slightly arbitrary as to what type of right away it is and if we're perfectly honest the rights of way system is rather confusing. I can't help thinking that energy would be better put into tidying up the rights of way and ensuring that they're passable.

One of my greatest concerns with the right to roam is the misinterpretation of it by people who are not familiar with the countryside code. We saw this in Scotland along the shores of Loch Lomond. Poor behaviour there led to a bylaw being implemented to stop people camping and abusing that particular location. There are plenty of laws in place around damage to land and property, around littering, and on environmental pollution to prosecute would-be wrongdoers. However, there is not sufficient policing or management of these activities. We all know of beauty spots that have been abused by people with their bizarre sense of entitlement. It is my fear that a right to roam would be a licence, not for us to walk and explore responsibly but, for those who do not respect the places they visit. I also fear that with the right to roam, rights of way will be even more neglected than they are now. I can't help thinking that a campaign to shift some road spending to spending on footpaths and bridleways would be a far better way to proceed. Is quite clear that building new roads increases traffic. There's an argument around Stonehenge at the moment where our government is proposing to spend a reported £1.7 billion on three kilometres of road. All it would do is move the blockage to another place. So, let's shift some of that spending to public rights of way and let's tell you by rights of our system and make it passable and cared for.

Here's a few examples of right of way that need fixing.

The Moel Penamnen one is not there at all, and to be honest it doesn't need to be. The one by the sewage works is bizarre and I'm sure you know of other 'dead end' rights of way, it should be extended or extinguished. Note the one in Cwm Moch that switches from being bridleway to a path on the parish border, which should it be? And the one on the right was terminated as the area that is now access land was previously used as a firing range, I think it should be reinstated as a bridleway. I'm sure you've all got your own example.

Surely effort put in this would be more useful and fruitful than a, potentially divisive, blanket right to roam?

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Hi Mike,

I tend to agree that we have a set of footpaths where they have evolved rather than someone sitting down and thinking about what makes sense. This has led to the current situation where there are anomalies that probably have more to do with civil boundaries changing over time and the ownership of responsibilities changing. My main concern is that once you start trying to "tidy" things up some people will take advantage of the situation and start restricting access to areas that have been hard-won in the past.

I also notice that three of the four examples you give are Access Land where the Right to Roam already exists. My understanding is that the Rights of Way…

Respondendo a

Thanks for that Barry, you've added some excellent thoughts. I'm currently in the Lakes and I've travelled on a lot of well maintained rights of way!

Cheers Mike


Brilliant discussion ! There's definitely plenty of ways to improve the state of our natural spaces and access to them. Look forward to exploring this topic, and all the different views and challenges ✊🏼

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