A personal statement on the countryside:
I am passionate about the environment and love spending time outdoors, particularly camping and canoeing in wild and rugged places. It never ceases to astound me that Riparian land ownership is still permitted in England. Riparian land is that which abuts a water course such as a river or stream and much of this land can be and is privately owned in England, and cannot be accessed by the public.
In Scotland there is legislation that protects an individual’s freedom to wander in the countryside, providing access to the environment for hobbies as long as people do not damage the natural surroundings.
In 1932, the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire’s Peak District by working people wanting to access the countryside in their limited leisure time and it was regarded as a notable act of illegal trespass by the forces of capitalism. Manchester’s Ramblers forced the issue through mass action, hoping that they would not face prosecution or imprisonment because of the number and cost of such an action through the courts. Two different groups of ramblers were able to reach their destination and meet with the other group. However on their return, five ramblers were arrested, with another detained earlier. Trespass was not, and still is not, a criminal offence in any part of Britain, but some would receive jail sentences of two to six months for offences relating to violence against the gamekeepers employed by the landowners.
Walkers in England and Wales were denied access to desolate areas of open country, which was controlled by landed gentry and other landowners, through the assertions of gamekeepers, who stated that Ramblers were disturbing nesting game birds, that would then be shot during the shooting season in the pursuit of a blood sport.
The mass trespass marked the beginning of sustained lobbying by The Ramblers Association, culminating in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which legislated rights to walk on mapped access land. However this still falls well short of the ‘Freedom to Roam’ legislation in Scotland.
We should question people’s right to private land ownership. We should also develop policies about how we should use our land. Are we merely stewards of the environment for the next generation or should people be able to control natural resources and access to the countryside? What is to become of the environment as we are faced with the threat of global warming?
For another article on land ownership on the main site: http://www.theworker.org.uk/br-land.htm