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Environment

The government has rejected calls to give the public more access to the English countryside

The environment secretary said there were "no plans" to expand right to roam in England, despite recent demonstrations by campaigners in the countryside.

A sign pointing towards a public footpath.

Scotland has right to roam covering most of the country. Image: Pixabay

The government has confirmed it has “no plans” to increase access to the countryside in England despite widespread calls from campaigners.

Environmental secretary Rebecca Pow stated the government’s position in a parliamentary question this week, telling Labour MP Rupa Huq “we have no plans to change the Rights of Way Act”.

The government’s comments come just weeks after a report exploring the potential expansion of “right to roam” was shelved, sparking anger from campaigners seeking greater access to the English countryside.

Currently, just 8 per cent of land in England is publicly-accessible. This stands in contrast to Scotland, where right to roam rules allow the public to access the vast majority of land across the country.

The campaign to introduce a similar policy in England has gained traction in recent years, with the pandemic and the climate crisis highlighting the importance of green space for nature and wellbeing.

The right to roam campaign group has organised a series of mass trespasses across England to demand improved access to land. The first took place in Devon in early May, where a group of campaigners took a picnic onto land owned by the Duke of Somerset.

The group is calling for an expansion of the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act of 2000, which enabled partial right to roam over around 8 per cent of England, including mountains, commons and moors.

“[But] these sites are often remote, meaning that access to land has become a postcode lottery, available to those who live next to it, or who can afford the cost of travel and overnight stays,” the group says.

“Everywhere else, not covered by the CRoW Act, the public are actively made to feel unwelcome in our own landscape and have been portrayed for centuries as a threat to the countryside.”

In March, Green MP Caroline Lucas tabled a bill to expand the right to roam, but government ministers have not expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

Last month, leader of the house Mark Spencer defended the shelving of a report into right to roam expansion, saying “the countryside is a place of business”.

“I think we are blessed in this country with hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpath to allow people to access the countryside. We have to recognise the countryside is not just a place of leisure, but it is also a place of business and food production,” he said.

Lucas responded at the time by saying: “Utterly feeble ‘defence’ from leader of house on government quashing review into the right to roam. Working and leisure are not incompatible – is this really the government’s excuse?”

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