BMC Wins Big in Welsh Coastal Access Update

© Dan Bailey

Free public access to all coastal areas and sea cliffs in Wales has come a big step closer, following a shake-up of access law recently announced by the Welsh Government.

At present, most access to coastal slopes - including sea-cliffs - in Wales is not a given right, and legally most sea-cliff climbing could be regarded as trespass.

Public access to the Welsh coast - soon to be legally guaranteed?  © Dan Bailey
Public access to the Welsh coast - soon to be legally guaranteed?
© Dan Bailey

"There is little doubt that the long history of climbers agreeing to and sticking to the negotiated voluntary restrictions on access to sea cliffs in places such as Gogarth, Pembrokeshire, Gower and the Ormes has made a significant positive difference to our case for better access" said the BMC in a statement last week.

Unveiled by Welsh Government minister Hannah Blyth in a written statement, the new proposals are designed to overhaul how open space in Wales is accessed.

Extending open access to coastal areas is the clearest benefit for climbers and walkers.

This represent the culmination of several years of campaigning and lobbying work by the BMC and others.

Thousands signed up to the BMC's 'Open Wales' campaign in 2014, which sought to show support for extending and simplifying access to the countryside after the Welsh Government first announced its intention to look at the subject. Following this was a Welsh Government green paper in 2015 which outlined some radical, and controversial, new changes. The BMC was one of only a few voices actively campaigning for open access to the coast as part of this process, an idea that met with strong opposition from both conservation and landowning representatives.

Their lobbying effort included arranging site visits by Government Ministers to Gogarth, giving presentations and receptions at the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) in Cardiff and holding workshops with key civil servants to build support among policy makers.

The BMC has also pushed for the creation of more 'integrated' access.

"The exact detail of this is still to be confirmed" they say, "but we are hopeful it will involve addressing 'flaws' in the open access system, such as pockets of open access land that are difficult to reach because they are not connected to rights of way from lowland areas."

The Welsh Government announcement also includes simplifying the process for changing rights of way, creating a new category of 'multi user path' which would allow cycling and horseriding on what are currently just footpaths, and permitting paragliding and hang gliding on open access land.

Landowners will arguably benefit from the more liberal coastal access regime too, in the form of reduced liability. As with open access land in the hills, owners will not be held responsible for accidents to visitors that are caused by natural features.

And since there are no rights without responsibilities, these proposals will also make it a legal requirement that all dogs in the vicinity of livestock are kept on a short fixed length lead at all times of the year.

The Welsh Government will now establish an 'Access Reform Group' to look at the finer details and advise on the fine print of the final legislation to be put before the Senedd. The BMC have said they will remain closely involved...

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