Do you walk, climb, canoe, cycle, horse-ride, swim or fish in the Welsh countryside? If so, you have an opportunity to back an initiative which could fundamentally improve the way people access and enjoy the outdoors in Wales – and the BMC is asking for your support.
The BMC has launched a campaign to help raise awareness of the Welsh government’s radical review of the law surrounding access to the outdoors. Our 'Open Wales' campaign aims to encourage the Welsh government by demonstrating our support of the many benefits a more accessible countryside would bring.
The Welsh government recently announced a review of the legislation and guidance relating to how people access and enjoy the outdoors in Wales. They wish to see better opportunities for walkers, climbers, canoeists, cyclists, mountain bikers, horse-riders, wild swimmers, anglers and the public in general to explore the beauty of Wales. They are looking to review the laws governing where people can go and what they can do, making them easier to understand and less bureaucratic.
In particular, the review will focus on three main areas:
increasing responsible access to the outdoors, both in urban and rural areas
improving the extensive public path network
increasing the amount of land available for allotments and community gardening.
The BMC fully supports the aim of improving access and we are asking you to pledge your support too. Access laws which are simple and easy to understand will increase opportunities for walkers, climbers and the public alike.
If you support the idea of increasing access to the outdoors in Wales please hit ‘support’ (The button is located at the bottom of the page. One vote per IP address).
Stifling the positive announcement of the review, an alliance of landowning and angling bodies have responded negatively and in force to the proposals, expressing fears that ‘untrammelled’ and ‘unfettered’ access could lead to ‘a serious impact on ecology and stock with disturbance and damage to crops, hedges and waterways’.
The BMC believes these fears are unfounded and is concerned that the negative response could divert or derail the Welsh government away from what was originally a positive and hopeful proposal. We want our members and the many people who enjoy the Welsh countryside to demonstrate the considerable support that exists for the plans.
Elfyn Jones, BMC access officer for Wales, said: “The review brings a rare and vital opportunity to drastically improve access for the people of Wales and its many visitors. Responsible recreation and conservation have been proven to go hand in hand. That’s why we’re calling on everyone who values access to our countryside, mountains, rivers and coastline to support our Open Wales campaign to see access laws extended and simplified.”
The BMC has 5000 members in Wales but these proposals will affect our entire membership of 76,000. Millions enjoy the beauty and unique qualities that the Welsh coastline and countryside offer.
This is phase 1 of the Open Wales campaign where we are trying to raise awareness and pledge our support for the idea. Phase 2 will be launched once the Welsh government green paper is published, when we’ll have the opportunity to comment on the specific proposals.
Why is a review of access legislation needed in Wales?
In Scotland the law guarantees “a statutory right of responsible access to land and inland waters for recreation”. In simple terms, you can go where you want provided you behave appropriately. In England and Wales, however, rights are much more limited. If land is not designated as ‘Open Access’ (Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000) – principally mountain, moor, heath, down and common land – you do not have a right to be there unless on a right of way or permissive path.
Currently there are areas of land in Wales of great value to climbers and hill walkers which are technically only accessible by trespass or de facto (tolerated) access, such as most of the sea cliffs, crags on private woodlands, outcrops on enclosed or semi-enclosed land or land on mountains and moorland that is not mapped as open access. For example, access to the great sea cliffs of Gogarth while currently welcomed by the occupiers, the RSPB, is not legally secure.
Other limitations of current access laws in Wales include:
Access to, and on water, is creating areas of conflict, (e.g.between canoeists and anglers)
Doesn’t address the need for multi-use (e.g. the use of mountain bikes to access crags along tracks that are not designated bridleways)
Current provisions create confusion (e.g.; dogs have to be on a short lead when on access land but not on public footpaths)
High cost to administration (e.g. the current CROW open access review has led to over 20 appeals to the planning inspectorate which may lead to potentially expensive and time consuming public hearings)
Provision of green space, including allotments, is patchy.
New access legislation would secure better access to the outdoors for responsible recreation, provide the opportunity to modernise and simplify the laws making them easier to understand and would allow the public as well as landowners to grasp the extent of access. Access could be conditional upon following an access code or charter that would be legally enforceable, similar to the current model in Scotland and some other European countries. This would provide clarity and certainty over where people can go and what they can do there.
Elfyn Jones believes “the freedom to enjoy the Welsh countryside responsibly should be a right that is secured by law for both the people of Wales and visitors who contribute so much to the Welsh economy”.
What are the benefits of more opportunities for outdoor recreation and improved access laws?
Health – It has been estimated that the cost of physical inactivity to Wales is around £650 million per year.[i] However, only 37% of men and 24% of women in Wales are reported to meet their recommended levels of physical activity.[ii]
Social & Economic – 60% of the adult population in Wales would like to visit the outdoors more often [iii] and it is estimated that in 2009 there were 28 million walking related trips to the Welsh countryside and coast. Expenditure associated with these walking and hill walking trips was around £632m.[iv] The Wales Coast Path in its first year has generated £32.2m to the regional economy and 730 person-years of employment. [v]
Environmental – Increased public access to the countryside supports the ambition of reconnecting people with the natural environment and ensuring this is a valued part of everyone’s life in Wales. The harmful effects from disconnection with nature – sometimes called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ – are increasingly recognised by the scientific community.[vi]
The BMC supports the Welsh Government review of access laws which could fundamentally change the way hill walkers, climbers and the wider public experience the countryside in Wales, and could even result in an open access charter similar to the Scottish system. Hit ‘support’ below if you agree.
For more information please contact the BMC Access Officer, Wales, Elfyn Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07554 998910.
[i] Climbing higher: creating an active Wales. A 5 year strategic action plan (Welsh Assembly Government 2009)
[ii] Physical activity statistics 2012, British Heart Foundation
[iii] Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey: 2011 Results and 2008 / 2011 Comparison
[iv] The Economic Impact of Walking and Hill Walking in Wales; Welsh Economy Research Unit, Cardiff University 2011.
[v] The Economic Impact of Wales Coast Path Visitor Spending on Wales 2012, interim report. Welsh Economy Research Unit, Cardiff
[vi] Oxford Farming Conference (2012), Farming’s Value to Society, www.ofc.org.uk
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4388 people support this campaign