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The Right to Roam

Posted by Richard Hammond at 10:54 on Saturday 11 September 2004

3-day tour of the Lake District & Hadrian's Wall3-day tour of the Lake District & Hadrian's Wall

After years of campaigning, ramblers are lacing up their walking boots in anticipation of new countryside laws that will allow greater access to rural land later this month.

On September 19, the first phase of the controversial Countryside and Rights of Way Act will open up previously restricted areas of countryside on mountain, moor and common land in the south-east and lower north-west of England.

The Peak District will be the first national park to benefit from the new legislation, as 400 new gates and stiles have been installed as well as 250 new signs to show walkers where they can go.

According to Nick Barrett, chief executive of The Ramblers Association, the significance of the new "right to roam" isn't just about vast areas of land being opened up, but a fundamental shift in the presumption surrounding access to rural areas. "After centuries of landowner dominance, the new law tips the balance in favour of the general public's access to the countryside," he said.

But landowners fear for their right to privacy and the safety of livestock, as well as that of walkers who stray into areas near shooting businesses. Caroline Bedell, a surveyor for the Country Land and Business Association, said she has been "swamped with queries from farmers and land managers who are concerned people view the new act as a general right to roam and not as a restricted right of access to mapped areas."

On Foot in the Lake DistrictOn Foot in the Lake District

The new "open access areas" are marked on 32 new ordnance survey maps - the first of which are due out this week - and information about where walkers can go is available from local tourist information centres. The first open areas include parts of Surrey, Kent, Sussex and nine London boroughs, plus parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Merseyside, Great Manchester, Cheshire, Cumbria, Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

Walkers will have to wait until the end of 2005 until the "right of open access" is rolled out throughout England and Wales. · Further information: countrysideaccess.gov.uk, ramblers.org.uk

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This article, by Richard Hammond, was first published in the Guardian.

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