Time for a New Manifesto on Access, say Campaigners

© Tim Hill

Today, 24th April, is the 91st anniversary of the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout, a seminal event in the historic struggle for public access to the countryside. But with less than 10% of England yet open to all - in rather sad contrast to the right to roam in Scotland - the campaign for greater access remains a live issue.

Kinder has been a magnet for access campaigners for nearly a century  © Tim Hill
Kinder has been a magnet for access campaigners for nearly a century
© Tim Hill

At an event at the weekend in Derbyshire to mark the anniversary, Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, called for 'a new manifesto' for public access in town and country.    

"We must not let the memory of the Kinder trespassers fade" she said.

"Their courage is a lesson to us all that we cannot rest in our fight for greater freedom.

"Some access has been won since 1932 but it is woefully inadequate. We still can only enjoy about eight per cent of England on foot, and many of our public paths, which are highways in law, are blocked, abused, or unrecorded." 

In recent years UK Government Ministers have promised that some of the money paid to farmers and land managers under the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) would be for more and better paths and access. However campaigners point out that the pledge has yet to lead to any proposals.

Trespassers set off from Hayfield  © Willow Publishing
Trespassers set off from Hayfield
© Willow Publishing

"Ministers must place public access at the heart of decision-making so that it is never neglected, with legally-binding targets to provide and protect it" said Ashbrook.

"We need proper investment in access, recognising the huge savings that being active outdoors makes to the health service.

"We should have greater rights of access to woods and watersides, and on water, bringing these opportunities closer to people's homes.  ELMS must provide value for money, rewarding farmers who create access where people want and need it. Our public paths need to be better maintained and fully recorded as required by law, and we need more, better-quality green spaces for people to enjoy close to home.

"To achieve these things, we need a new impetus for access. We must set out our manifesto. We must lobby the politicians in the run-up to the general election. And immediately we must lobby candidates in next month's local elections for pledges to protect paths and spaces."

Also at the weekend, the Kinder Trespass anniversary was celebrated by campaigners pressing for improved public access to lakes, reservoirs and rivers, with hundreds of swimmers taking to the water in an aquatic mass trespass at Kinder Reservoir, an event organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society.

Swimming campaigners take to the water at Kinder Reservoir  © Oliver Pitt, Outdoor Swimming Society
Swimming campaigners take to the water at Kinder Reservoir
© Oliver Pitt, Outdoor Swimming Society

The group are calling for a legal right of access to inland water in England and Wales. 

"In Scotland, the right to access rivers and all other water bodies to swim and paddle is clear and straightforward, in return for being responsible and respecting land [and] water, and this works well" they write in their manifesto.

"In England and Wales there is a complex web of contested rights for most rivers and gaps in open access rights to water. One step towards starting to resolve this would be to extend to waterways the CROW legislation that gives us the right to roam on some land."

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