The Ramblers is calling on the government to rethink plans to change trespass laws, amid concerns that the moves could have the unintended consequences of eroding walkers’ rights and deterring people from visiting the countryside.
In the autumn, the Home Office opened a consultation, which is closing on 4 March, about strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. The Conservative Party general election manifesto reiterated this commitment and their intention to ‘criminalise intentional trespass’.
Trespass is currently a civil wrong and criminalisation would be a major change in the law - and one that could have a significant impact on walkers.
Gemma Cantelo, head of policy and advocacy at the Ramblers, said: ‘We’re worried that these proposals are the thin edge of a wedge, which could result in an erosion of people’s rights to access and enjoy the countryside.’
‘It’s vital that the access rights that the Ramblers and others have fought for over the years are protected. A reported 84% of police forces do not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments, so this seems like a sledgehammer approach to policymaking. Government’s priority should be to make it easier for people to get outside and enjoy the benefits of walking and nature – that’s good for our health and the planet.’
Gemma added: ‘We encourage walkers worried about their right to access to the outdoors to make their concerns known to the Home Office. It’s critical that these proposals do not have a detrimental impact for walkers – concerns the Ramblers will be raising with government. Today, we’ve published our planned consultation response on the Ramblers website to help walkers consider their own response.’
As an organisation, the Ramblers exists to protect people’s ability to enjoy the benefits and sense of freedom that come from being outdoors on foot and we oppose any measures that would deter people from exercising their rights to access the outdoors. Walkers may have to leave a footpath to get past an obstruction, may stray from the right of way by accident, or may have sincerely held beliefs that they have a right of way; walking in the countryside should not put you at risk of committing a crime.
Read the Ramblers’ planned response to the consultation.