Trespass

Plans to change trespass rules could erode access to the countryside 

The Ramblers is deeply concerned by government proposals to change trespass rules, which have been subject to a Home Office consultation. The current proposals could result in an erosion of people’s rights to access the countryside, particularly in the context of the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to make intentional trespass a criminal offence. This needs an urgent rethink.

The Ramblers is committed to enabling more people to enjoy the benefits of nature and the outdoors. We believe that government’s priority should be to make it easier for people to get outside, enjoy the benefits of walking and connect to the natural environment. Promoting access to the outdoors is a critical part of our response to the climate emergency, poor air quality, high levels of obesity and physical inactivity, and the mental health crisis.

The Ramblers has responded to the Home Office consultation to set out our position:

  1. We oppose the criminalisation of trespass and any measures that deter people from accessing the outdoors. This would be a major change in the law - and could have a significant impact on people’s ability to access the countryside. 
  2. Rules to criminalise trespass should remain limited to very specific circumstances. This should only apply where, for example, where there is an immediate risk to public safety -such as on railway land where trespass is currently a criminal offence – and there is no reasonable alternative. We do not believe this threshold has been reached
  3. A compelling case for changing trespass rules has not been made. Three quarters of police forces believe that their current powers in relation to unauthorised encampments are sufficient and proportionate, while 84% are opposed to the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments. 
  4. Walking in the countryside should not put you at risk of committing a crime. Criminalisation of trespass would put walkers and others at risk of committing an offence. People may have to leave a footpath to get past an obstruction or have sincerely held beliefs that they have a right of access. 
  5. The proposals threaten ‘wild’ camping and the right to protest. The lack of clarity within the current proposals risk criminalising other activity, including wild camping and people’s legitimate right to protest. Our current rights to access the outdoors have been built on the legitimate protest of previous generations.what circumstances it might be applied.

We are calling on the Home Office to provide: 1) urgent clarification on the governments long-term plans around the criminalisation of trespass, and; 2) public commitment not to introduce measures that would limit people’s access to and enjoyment of the outdoors, and to working with organisations such as ours to ensure this is not the case. 

Note

* In November 2019, the Home Office announced a consultation about strengthening police powers to deal with unauthorised encampments. The Conservative party manifesto, published ahead of the 2019 UK general election, reiterated this commitment - but, it went further and committed to making intentional trespass a criminal offence. The Manifesto did not provide detail on what this would mean or under