21 December 2015 by Justin Cooke
Did you know that, of the 1 million plus hectares of open access land across England and Wales, some 90% of them are open for the public to enjoy? We enjoy this access – or “freedom to roam” – thanks to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW), which protects our right to access on foot areas of open land comprising mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.
Regular readers of the Ramblers blog will no doubt be aware of all the great work we do to protect public rights of way. Over the years we have won many court cases and legal challenges, some of them very high profile. However, although similar, the work we do to protect our access rights tends to fly under the radar.
This is often because the vast majority restrictions placed on the right of access are for perfectly good reasons - such as the felling of trees on Forestry Commission land, or only allowing dogs on a lead within fields used for the grazing of calves and cattle.
But we remain committed to maximising the land that is open and available for the public to enjoy. And in doing so, we sometimes stumble across unexpectedly weird and wonderful ways in which access land is used.
Take this recent case, which closed on the same day we celebrated the 15 year anniversary of the passing of the CRoW Act, for example. It involves an inviting piece of moorland resting on the side of the Peak District - the kind of moorland which people have always enjoyed walking on. The kind of moorland which was at the heart of the access movement spurred on by the Kinder Scout trespass, indeed, the kind of moorland which the Ramblers highlighted in the long campaign to gain the rights of access we enjoy today.
Not only is it a beautiful piece of moorland, but it is also a bit of moorland on which things are routinely blown up. For this is a piece of land which is used by the Health and Safety Laboratory to test explosives and the damage they can do.
The moorland is not closed all the time, because the restriction system for open access land has at its core a concept of the least restrictive option. This means that when the moorland is not playing host to explosions, it is open to walkers. And a great walk it is too, for from the many paths and tracks across the land which give the walker unprecedented moorland scenery, you can also view all the wonderful things which have been used for testing - including an old abandoned tube train sitting on a short piece of track, miles from London, surrounded by heather and the sounds of nature.
So whilst the work we do to protect our rights to walk in open countryside may not be as well-known as the great work we do to keep your public paths open, it is just as important. And sometimes just a bit weird at the same time.