Access to open countryside

We believe that everyone should be free to walk - away from footpaths - in wild, open landscapes such as mountains, moorland, downland and heathland.

The issue

We campaigned for many decades for the freedom to walk in these areas and we were delighted when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed in 2000.

This law grants a right of access on foot to wilderness areas for recreation, subject to safeguards for wildlife and privacy and restrictions to allow landowners to continue to manage land as they see fit.

In England, areas which are accessible have been mapped according to criteria drawn up by Natural England (NE). Regulations state that maps must be reviewed on a regular basis; the first review was delayed but is due by 2019.

Our position

The CRoW Act opened up many of the finest areas of the countryside and its introduction has been a great success. However, not all wild areas which might have been opened up were. This is mostly due to the very complicated and technical exercise undertaken to produce maps showing accessible areas.

A new approach to identifying open countryside is needed. Any new approach must be easy for walkers to understand and be broad enough to encompass most open green spaces. The forthcoming review process has the potential to expand access opportunities, and in so doing to increase the economic, social and health benefits that recreational access to green spaces provides.

Government action

We're keen to work with government agencies and other stakeholders to devise a new, simplified review process. Although the 2019 deadline for producing new maps may seem distant, it will take time to find consensus and to develop pilot projects to test any new approaches to identifying open countryside. The government should set up a stakeholder working group as soon as possible to begin these discussions.

Background to the issue

We believe that legal rights to walk in the countryside are far preferable to access by permission. Where rights are legally secure, the public can be sure about where they can go: for example, accessible land will appear on OS maps and can be promoted. Some public bodies, charities or conservation organisations provide access voluntarily, but few private individuals do, which is why the government recognised the need to legislate for access to open areas.

Additional information

 

Updated 7 May 2015