The latest salvo in the great ‘right to roam’ dispute arrives – a series of disputes over access pushed forward by what used to be called the Ramblers Association and is now I gather just called The Ramblers (which makes it sound like one of those slightly plasticy food pubs serving discount Sunday lunches).
As the Telegraph reports:
Campaigners say that many of the growing number of disputes are caused by people with “money and prestige” buying property and refusing to recognise established footpaths.
A little hint of class war there I suspect – how dare those people buy land in the country and do something like farming on it when its there for city-dwellers to tramp all over on their weekends for free. And the Ramblers are talking nonsense as this case indicates:
A dispute in Swanland, Humberside, where walkers want to be allowed to use a path across a primary school playing field also seems likely to go to a public inquiry.
And why can’t the walkers take a little detour round the primary school playing field then?
In truth we know that The Ramblers object automatically to any proposed closure, diversion or alteration of a footpath that they stumble across. And even – as appears to be the case with Vixen Tor – make up rights of way that aren’t even there:
For the previous 30 years, an agreement with the Tor’s previous owners, the Windeatt Estate, had allowed public access to the site, but Mrs Alford claimed there was no such legal public right of way.
What ever the outcome of these disputes it remains the case that The Ramblers are promoting free access to the countryside – the idea that we do not have rights to control access to and use of our property if that property is the sort of place where folk in boots would like to tramp. Ancient rights of way are just that and landowners have to maintain those paths but the right to walk along a path is very different from general rights of access.
And – regardless of the evil spectre of health and safety – Mrs Alford is right:
Mrs Alford, whose family has farmed on Dartmoor for six generations, said: “There is no right of way. There was permitted access with the previous owners, but we bought the land to farm it and that’s how we want to keep it. Animals and intensive public use just don’t mix.”
At present the law grants free access under some circumstances and is used aggressively by The Ramblers and local authorities to ‘protect’ footpaths but nowhere in all this is any recognition that for the landowner these interventions are disruptive to their main business of farming, expensive and come without compensation. Perhaps rather than use the brute ignorance of the majority, The Ramblers should start thinking about how they should start paying for the leisure use they extract from those rights of access.