I attended this event yesterday in Edale at the foot of Kinder Scout. The MC was Chris Townsend, the hill-walking ambassador for the BMC. It was very well attended by walkers and climbers and covered the history of both the Kinder Access Campaign and the creation of the Pennine Way, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The main speaker was David Morris a hugely influential figure in the Scottish Access Campaign. His talk outlined the background to the Scottish Campaign and in particular the tremendous work done by Alan Blackshaw in his extensive research into the Trespass Laws in Scotland. The work done by Alan showed that there was a "Presumption of Freedom" dating back to the 19th century and that the tighter restrictions imposed by the landowners from the 1960’s onwards had no justification in law. This is very similar to the work done by the Rev Caffyn on our rivers. In essence the Scottish Land Reform Act 2003 formalised the existing legal position. He stressed that the critical element of Scottish Access is the “Code of Conduct” as this gives a framework for everyone to work within.
David went on to give his opinion of what he thought was achievable in extending the access to land in England. He felt that extending access to woodlands and riverbanks within the CROW Act would not be achievable. The reason being that it would be far too complicated and prohibitively expensive, the huge cost of implementing the original CROW Act and Coastal Path would be a barrier to extending access in this way. When English politicians realised how little it cost to implement the Scottish Land Reform Act they were amazed, one of those being Nick Clegg who was very interested and took a long walk with David to see the effects of the open access for himself. His response to this meeting was to come back and give a boost to the work in establishing the Coastal Path.
David’s opinion is that the best and most achievable way of extending access in England is to make changes to the Trespass laws to give a "Presumption of Freedom" as a basic human right, controlled by a robust “Code of Conduct” similar to that used in Scotland.
His advice to walkers is to carry a copy of the Scottish Code of Conduct and claim their right to the land by not keeping to the footpaths but using all the land in a responsible manner. If challenged by landowners they should refer to the Code of Conduct and ask them to explain why if it is OK in Scotland why not England. If the walker has been following the code it would be near impossible for the landowner to prove that any damage has been caused so leaving little option but to either accept the situation or try and use intimidation. They would of course be committing an offence if they did that. He felt that the campaigning groups should produce a simpler version of the Scottish Code of Conduct to be used by walkers. He was preaching to a very receptive audience as from my experience militant walkers and climbers have been taking this attitude for decades. The BMC had a large presence at the meeting but notable by their absence was the Ramblers Association, it will be interesting to see if they adopt this approach to increasing access?
The similarity in this approach to that being taken by ourselves is encouraging, as we are already claiming our right to Navigate the Rivers by just doing it. I think the idea of a printed Code of Conduct booklet would be a useful tool.
Bio of David Morris
Bio of Alan Blackshaw
Kinder Trespass Link