More than half of the Conservative voters polled by YouGov were in general support of extending right to roam
October 7, 2023 6:00 am(Updated 9:34 am)
“I’m frankly fed up with the Right to Roam campaign. The only things that have rights to roam are farmers, their pigs and cattle.” So, reportedly, said Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week, at a Conservative Party Conference lunch sponsored by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation – similar comments were made in her official conference speech.
I found the statement remarkable for two reasons. First, these “things” – the farmers, cows and pigs – are the same “things” that her party appears hellbent on selling down the (polluted) river, by pushing to import high-carbon, low-welfare cattle from as far away as Australia and Mexico.
The second is that she implied that cattle should have the unbridled right to roam rather than the British public who, when polled in a YouGov survey as recently as June, showed strong support for extending the right to roam in England, with 56 per cent of Tory voters polled in favour of the idea.
I have been pushing for the right to roam in England and Wales since 2007, when a lack of money and near non-existent public transport made me realise how little I was able to immerse myself in the outdoors.
And, whenever I postulate that we should have the same freedom to roam in England and Wales as in Scotland (for the past 20 years, it has had rights similar to those being campaigned for in England and Wales), people throw around ludicrous comparisons.
“How would you feel if someone camped in your garden?” for example. So, to stoop to that conflating level, is Coffey suggesting that I have to allow a farmer and their herd unbridled access to my lawn?
Of course not – on both counts. At the heart of the Right to Roam movement is a set of rules and regulations that allows responsible access – known as “Leave No Trace”.
Scotland is one of many countries that already does this and does it well; it has two decades of data and experience to back up that fact.
The Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland all ascribe to “everyman’s right” (with a restriction of 70m from dwellings or gardens in all cases) and have done for centuries, which sees the freedom to roam – and access to inland water – as a basic right for all. Other countries have varying modified versions of this including Estonia, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic and many more.
Organisations like the BASC always like to cite the value they bring to the economy – recently to the tune of £100 million, a fact much laudered by people like Coffey. Yet compare that to the £2.1 billion it’s conservatively estimated that access to the outdoors could save the NHS through reduced treatment costs as a result of increased activity levels.
Coffey herself said in a speech at the Countryside Future Conference in June: “Our countryside makes up over 90 per cent of our land… This is a living, breathing, vibrant place that adds so much to the health and happiness of millions every year.” Yet, in England, the right to roam applies to only 8 per cent.
Why would someone who knows that to be true not only seek to limit access by U-turning on her vow to abolish the deadline for registering historic rights of way, thereby losing up to 41,000 miles of potential pathways, but also pit farmers against hikers?
It is time we put these outdated and polarising tactics out to pasture and opened the countryside up to all.