If COVID has taught us anything, it is the desire to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. Though this is a wonderful privilege, it comes at a cost and an onus, and its repercussions will be felt for generations. It is easy to use occurrences such as the Kinder Trespass of 1932 as a justification for greater land access, yet over the past 18 months I have been able to witness another mass trespass across these beautiful isles.
It is easy to create facts and figures regarding land ownership so let’s see who owns the majority of Britain. It is of no surprise to me that the some of the highest land use is for environmental interests and resources i.e. forestry and water collection. A great deal is also used in agriculture and is farmed to produce food for the nation.
However, regardless of who owns the land, if we have access then it is a privilege that should be used responsibly and respectfully. In the UK we enjoy an extensive public footpath system, far better than many places I’ve travelled in the world. We have over 220,000km of public rights of way, which approximately 170,000km of these are footpaths and 40,000 km are bridleways. Over 4,600 km are National Trails and 30,900 km are recreational routes. From my international experience that is an incredible figure for the small landmass we inhabit.
I’ve been fortunate to travel in many parts of the world and always enjoy my time in South Africa, I’ve walked the Otter Trail and ridden in the Joberg2C mountain bike race. These are only possible due to private land owners allowing access and you have to pay for the privilege. I distinctly remember many occasions where riders or walkers passed through a gate in a wire fence which was locked after they left. Would you put up with this in Britain..? Would you be prepared to pay for land access..?
One of the ethics of Leave No Trace is Plan Ahead and Prepare, this includes considering your destination, the journey, and if using a car; where are you going to park it..? Part of the driving test is the ability to read a number plate at 20m, so please explain to me how people cannot read a parking sign at 2m and not understand its consequences. I know this has been highlighted in the Peak District, Snowdonia and the Lakes, but I’m sure this has been repeated many times all around the country.
The other side of this story is whether Local Authorities should bring more facilities in such as parking, public transport, toilets, locally sourced food etc, but where would we put them without destroying the countryside people are coming to see? And how would we get people from behind the wheel of their car?
Over recent months, I have observed both wild and human nature, and been disturbed by a number of people’s attitudes. Ground nesting birds are most at risk in the spring and near to myself I’ve seen many Curlew, which is wonderful. This beautiful bird is Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Globally they are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their call is beautiful and they honour us by nesting close by, yet people still allow their dogs to roam off leads through open fields during the nesting season.
I wonder if you’d like a group of strangers to come and trample on your bed with a huge set of paws putting your children at risk..?
Here’s some great advice from the Eastern Moors Partnership…
Recently the Rural Crime Team appeared near to my home due to reports of Sheep Worrying in the fields. These fields border a housing estate and during the last year many more people have been out enjoying the open air. This is wonderful and I applaud people getting exercise, but they must be responsible. Many have walked field boundaries, ignored footpaths and caused damage to crops. Many dog owners are oblivious to the nature of the wolf in their pets, who see sheep as something to hunt whether they have acted like this at home or not. Only this week I have seen owners with dogs off leads in open fields filled with sheep. Two sheep have been put down and I hope dog owners understand that a farmer is within their rights to shoot any dog who is on their land and worrying their sheep. People then wonder why farmers lock gates and place no entry / private land signs everywhere.
Sheep farming has created many of the upland landscapes we see today. I’m not here to debate the rights or wrongs of this; however it has to be a passion when you understand that many sheep farmers earn less than a family on benefits. This is why many have had to diversify and I know a number in the Peak District that have developed camping barns and shops to supplement their income or even just to survive. Therefore, if we desire increased access we must be aware of the cost. See the tweet below for the price of wool, a commodity hailed as environmentally excellent, but worth a pittance to the farmer.
We must work to the ethics of Leave No Trace and the Countryside Code or become hypocrites as the amount of litter and damage is out of control. Recent reports of extensive littering in Bradford Dale, have saddened me as this is such a beautiful and accessible part of the Peak District, as have moorland fires earlier this year due to the irresponsible use of disposable BBQs. This in itself brings another issue: disposable society. What gives us the right to treat the countryside as a dumping ground, the amount of unsustainable material i.e. plastics and metals left behind is beyond my understanding, particularly when we all have waste bins and recycling facilities at home.
I also find it incredibly sad that people have been ‘wild camping’ and treat the countryside like a festival, leaving behind litter, tents and chairs abandoned with ground damaged and trees broken.
It is sad that occurrences such as these hold the headlines when I know there are many people who enjoy the countryside responsibly, but it is the few miscreants which tarnish everyone’s reputation.
Access – It’s all about consequence, if you want access you must be aware of the cost. I probably sound like a grumpy old man, but I’m trying hard not to be, I really want people to enjoy the countryside and gain the physical and mental health benefits it brings, but every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
We must ensure we do not destroy our countryside by loving it to death…
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