CRoW: BMC Viewpoint

The CRoW Act has been criticised for being unnecessarily bureaucratic, wastefully expensive and a poor relation to the Land Reform Act in Scotland. As CRoW begins to take effect in England and Wales, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the why and how of the BMC's involvement.

When Labour came to power in 1997 better access to the countryside was a manifesto commitment and had been a Ramblers' Association campaign for decades. With consultation in full swing the BMC Access & Conservation Committee had to make a decision - do we support the Bill as it was then or oppose it? We decided that being on board the process gave the BMC greater influence over an event that was clearly going to happen anyway.

This meant the BMC was able to:

  • ensure climbing was not excluded from the new statutory right of access,
  • fight off the threat of a ridiculous night-time curfew on access by vigorous lobbying,
  • work with landowners' representatives so that occupier's liability with respect to natural land features (often an issue with access to cliffs) on access land was reduced.

We continue to work with the relevant government bodies to:

  • ensure that 'informal access management', such as BMC agreed restrictions to protect nesting birds and other agreements with landowners, continue to be used in preference to statutory restrictions,
  • ensure interpretation of 'activities undertaken for commercial purposes' (these fall outside the new statutory rights of access) does not harm the interest of those educating and training others in the mountains,
  • make publicity materials as positive about access as possible,
  • push for the CRoW Act right of access to be extended to include coastal land,
  • and by working constructively with these agencies we are able to promote climbers' and hill walkers' needs from the 'inside'.

While broadly supporting the progress of the CRoW Act, in no way does the BMC Access & Conservation team see it as a perfect, finished article - not everything in the final Act is as we would like it. It has been suggested that the right of access under the Act is an 'empty' one as we were free to go to most of these places anyway. The benefit is that this freedom is now backed up by statute and cannot be taken away from us arbitrarily.

Once made, the Act has to be implemented - again the BMC are not suggesting this process has been an unalloyed success. As an example, the mapping process has taken a lot of effort and expense, and has not been well suited to including crags as mapped open country. It can be argued that this money could have been better spent on access in other ways, although it is debatable whether the money would have found its way to access for recreation in the first place. Where mistakes have been made we will push for these to be remedied as a priority.

The CRoW Act has involved the BMC in a lot of work - the Act exists and it is right to seek to get the most out of it for our members. In doing so we haven't lost sight of the importance of promoting our customary freedom of access to many, many places where CRoW will not have an effect - at this time the access officers and volunteers have around 20 active negotiations going on with landowners to improve access for climbing. While not perfect, the CRoW Act should encourage a shift in attitude from land ownership to land stewardship, and we must continue to promote this idea, promote the health benefits of being active outdoors and promote our human right to enjoy our mountains, hillsides and crags.



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