Brexit means…[insert plan here]

We may have already accepted that many of the Leave side’s, erm, lets say, ‘aspirations’ regarding post-Brexit Britain were, charitably, bluster. However, this doesn’t seem to be stopping a whole plethora of organisations from getting early letters-to-Santa into the post regarding the future of the country. In no field is this more clear than in the realm of farming subsidies – even before the referendum this was recognised as an emotive subject on all sides of the debate, with no-one happen with the current wasteful system.

The National Trust kicked off the calls for change post-Brexit in August. I covered this in a previous blog post, asking them not to forget about the role for improved countryside access. Since then there have a range of alternative ideas for reforming subsidies. These ideas, to no-one’s surprise, treat farming as the ultimate guinea-pig, a convenient test-bed for often highly ideological economic, social and political pet theories. I’m not sure, as an example, many of the farmers who voted for Brexit would be hugely impressed with Ryan Bourne of the IEA’s (a fundamentalist Free Market think-tank) proposal to simply cut all subsidies and throw farming to full global competitive forces (or, in simple terms, destroy UK farming).

In addition to Bourne’s Free Market views there have been  proposals to protect smaller farms from CPRE; the predictable counter-arguments from the NFU and Country Landowner’s Association (CLA) and a new collaboration (of RSPB, WWF, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust) building on National Trust’s initial ideas with a new plan for a Green Brexit*. The partners have produced a glossy leaflet, outlining a new five point plan titled ‘A New Policy For Our Countryside‘.

Of course, my own blog on this issue was also an attempt to throw my own prime passion, countryside access, into the mix. And thankfully, as always, The Open Spaces Society have been making just that argument to government too. Their call is for the subsidy system to benefit access to the countryside, through more effective maintenance of current routes, and increased dedication of both new footpaths and Access Land. All of which is great (as usual OSS are leading from the front on this), but doesn’t really go far enough for those of us looking at a severe lack of access for our boats and bike as well as our boots.

Brexit means… working together

 

As already mentioned, most of the calls for change represent very narrow views, aligned closely (soley) to the organistion involved’s own work and interests. I listed some ideas for access in the last blog and I have a tonne more, But this post isn’t about simply throwing more ideas in the mix, but about encouraging organisations and campaigners to work together for change. And not just with others who are tightly aligned (as per the Green Brexit Coalition), but with others too.

If we want government to listen to any of us, we need to speak with more than just one voice. In 2013 our forests were threatened with a massive sell-off. In response the government recieved a loud, resounding chorus of criticism with just one message – over our dead bodies. I’ve no doubt that the government’s change of heart was driven, at least in part, by the huge diversity of voices telling them the sell-off was unacceptable.

Outdoor recreation, environmentalism and heritage often conflict with each other. This is senseless, and only serves to weaken each message. I’d love to see a Venn Diagram of people interested in the environment and involved in outdoor recreation** – I’ll bet you’ll see something looking more like an eclipse than two separate circles! So why do we not all work together more? Of course there are issues where interest may differ – but these are all surmountable through a cooperative approach and, even if not, still more binds us together.

So my message to all those who love our countryside – whether on foot during a challenge walk, with a passion for creating new habitats, or for protecting our rural heritage (or, as many of us will be, all three) to work together. It’s great that RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust are working together – but bring Ramblers, OSS and others with you! Together we’ll build a case government can’t ignore!

Brexit means… engaging

Leading on from this call for a coalition for the countryside is another point – both obvious and more tricky. We must also bring farmers with us too. Here I do think there is in many ways a disconnect between the different communities involved in protecting our countryside. I certainly don’t feel I know enough about farming. But we must seek to engage and understand the farming community if we are to develop a future for the countryside which genuinely does increase wildlife protection, rural heritage and access to the great outdoors. Imagine how strong our case will be if it represents not only a united from from heritage, conservation and access campaigners – but also has farmers championing our cause too!


* Good news for anyone who had that in their Brexit bingo. I got stuck with Sloppy-Brexit.

** This research document doesn’t have any Venn Diagrams, but does show that outdoor recreation and environmentalism come from very similar roots, and are very inter-twined – so why do we then go on to self-identify ourselves as one or the other?

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National Trust – Don’t Forget About Access!

They say a week is a long time in politics. And though the recent upheaval the pre-June 23rd UK seems almost a forgotten and distant era though only a month ago. As Brexit becomes ever more the political reality, more and more organisations, like the National Trust, who spoke out in favour of a Remain vote begin to switch focus to attempts to steer Brexit in a positive direction. This is the thinking behind National Trust’s new push to radically renew the system of farming subsidies in the UK.

The trust have released a six point plan for subsidies, shifting away away from production and acreage-based grants to refocus on protecting, restoring and enhancing the natural environment.

The six points are summarised here, but are given in more detail on the National Trust’s Future of Our Farming news article:

  1. Public money must only pay for public goods.
  2. It should be unacceptable to harm nature but easy to help it.
  3. Nature should be abundant everywhere.
  4. We need to drive better outcomes for nature, thinking long-term and on a large scale.
  5. Farmers that deliver the most public benefit, should get the most.
  6. We must invest in science, new technology and new markets that help nature.

I fully agree with each of these points. It’s great to see one of our biggest national conservation charities (and also one of our biggest farmers) making such a bold intervention in this debate.

However…!

I do feel National Trust have missed a very important Point Seven from their list of six:

Facilitating improved access to the countryside for the British public.

 Public funds should be used to facilitate public access

While great strides have been made in opening access to our uplands, moorlands and other ‘open countryside’ to outdoor recreation in recent decades, people are still broadly excluded from a great deal of our lowlands and other areas subject to farming. These area, and the farmers and landowners who manage them, receive a huge amount in subsidies – around £2.5-3 billion in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments alone. This money comes from the public in the form of taxation – yet the public is excluded from the vast majority of farmland. Attempts to increase public access are heavily resisted by farmers and their representatives. This can be witnessed in the negative response from NFU Cymru to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Green Paper on countryside access.

Of course, a great many farmers and landowners do an awful lot to help walkers and others in the countryside. And many involved in outdoor recreation need to change their attitudes, especially with keeping dogs on leads and respecting property by doing no damage. But all in all farm land presents a potentially incredibly valuable, but under-utilised recreational resource. And one we are all paying to keep going.

DSCF4427.jpgEven the Public Footpaths that do exist in farm land are often treated with contempt by farmers. On a recent walk near Wirksworth, on the edge of the Peak District, a Public Footpath through a farmyard had been completely blocked with taped fencing and locked gates across the legal Right of Way. Being so far from an alternative route I had no choice but to find a way of scrambling over the barriers, and hoping not to meet what was likely to be a hostile farmer. At another point (within a few miles) I came across the pictured sign on a gate – no problem I thought, I have no intention of leaving the path. The only marvernsfarm.jpgtrouble was the path went straight across the middle of the field and hadn’t been maintained. Crops were growing on it, so that the path was invisible. So I had the landowner was making it very clear to me I must stay on the path, while giving me no option but to guess where it was and walk straight through their crop!

The fields in the second picture are by the Malverns, leading up to one of the railway stations walkers can use to access this great range of hills. But the Rights of Way crossing it have been ploughed up, leaving it unclear where a walker should go to either stay on the correct path or even use a route which the farmer might prefer. So the walker is left in the uncomfortable position of just having to strike out across a field and hoping for the best.

Positive Benefits

Although the benefits to outdoor recreation are clear (and all that entails for both physical and mental wellbeing), there are other benefits to increased access to our countryside, and ones that should benefit farmers too.

“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” Sir David Attenborough

I love this quote. It sums up so much about what I believe is great about getting people into the countryside. The charge is often made that people from outside the farming/conservation/upland/rural (delete as applicable) communities don’t understand them, leading to conflict, misunderstand and failed policies. Well, how can people be expected to understand something they are actively excluded from? Unless we stand helping people enjoy, responsibly, their countryside, to see it as theirs to protect, how are we to spread the vital messages we to about the issues such areas face?

With such an adversarial situation between outdoor advocates and the farming sector both sides can come across as intransigent. Organisations like Ramblers and Open Spaces Society get criticised for a ‘militant’ approach to the policing of Public Footpaths, especially in opposing changes to the direction of paths. Again – when such paths present one of the few legal ways to access much of our countryside, when our rights to use these was so hard fought for, and when (as described above) they are still so often abused by some (but nowhere near all) landowners, how can we expect otherwise. By having a more liberal approach to  accessing the countryside (see my ideas below), maybe all can work more positively together in the future, with changes being made through cooperative partnerships, rather than through often hostile relationships.

What Access?

These are just my initial thoughts on the ways in which our countryside could be opened up more effectively to outdoor recreation through conditionality in subsidies (or even, blue sky thinking alert, because it’s just a good idea!). Importantly, I don’t believe any of these ideas need have any detrimental effect on farmers. They should, at worst be neutral in impact, and at best create additional opportunities for landowners (e.g. chargeable facilities, cafes etc) should they wish to take advantage.

If anyone has any ideas to contribute to this, please let me know – it would be great to collate them!

Maintenance of footpaths – ensuring and Rights of Way running through land are maintained, open, and welcoming should be a clear minimum condition. This is already a legal responsibility landowners have – so it should be happening anyway. There should be a zero tolerance approach to handing over public funds to any landowner not fulfilling such responsibilities.

Increasing opportunities for access on foot – where possible audits of the local area should be conducted to identify gaps in local provision. For example local beauty spots which are difficult to access; under-resourced activities (e.g. a lack of Bridleways for horse riders or cyclists); or areas with a low density of either Rights of Way or Access Land. Where gaps are identifies landowners should be encouraged to work with other stakeholders to set up new routes, ideally as Rights of Way, but potentially as Permissive routes.

Access on/along rivers / lakes – only 4% of rivers in England and Wales hold a IMG_20160508_152818551b.jpgRight of Navigation which is recognised (or unopposed) by all parties. This has a severe impact on water sports, especially canoeing. In return for public fund
to maintain land, landowners should be obliged to allow canoes to pass along their waterways. Although this doesn’t answer the deeply entrenched issue of whether permission is needed or whether a legal right already exists (see, for example, River Access For All) it would at least allow paddlers to canoe along a huge amount of water with reduced conflict with other groups.

Support access to specific environments for outdoor recreation – these could range from rocks and crags for climbing, or the chance for newer sports like paragliding, abseiling etc to be able to use land for their recreational use.

Kinder 1932 – Separating the Myth

The Kinder Mass Trespass. It’s the most well known of all the protests in the rambling/outdoor movement – it’s possibly the ONLY well known aspect of the movement full stop. And therein lies the rub. As its centenary begins to approach (the event was 84 years ago now, in 1932), it’s status becomes ever more legendary. But are we celebrating the reality of the event, or a myth? The tweet quoted above, from the Peak District’s Chief Executive (who has been doing a great job in representing and promoting the Peak District), got me thinking about the debates about the event’s place in rambling history.

mass trespass - libraryemsSo first, some of the contentions any rambler will hear…

  • The Kinder Mass Trespass was the first major protest in the rambling movement – MYTH! Many protests and trespasses had taken place in the 50 years before Kinder (1).
  • The Kinder Mass Trespass was the largest major protest in the rambling movement – MYTH! Some protests, especially those in the North-West, attracted tens-of-thousands of protesters – and got quicker results too (2).
  • The protest helped create or protect Public footpaths for us all to enjoy – MYTH! Public footpaths were already well-protected in law – the Kinder Mass Trespass was concerned with the Right to Roam over open countryside away from the footpaths.
  • The protest helped create our National ParksMYTH!
  • The protest was a major step on the journey towards securing the Right to Roam? MTYH? Ah, well, here’s where it gets interesting!

The Kinder Mass Trespass is now well established in the public’s eye as THE major event in the rambling movement’s long fight to secure a Right to Roam (a fight that still isn’t fully won). Evidence of this can be seen even in information available on the Ramblers website repeating many of the myths above (read on to see why this is especially ironic!). However, once you dig deeper there is a lot more controversy surrounding the protest’s actual role in helping secure greater access.

The Case For

While the Kinder Mass Trespass was a long way from being the first or biggest such event, it probably can be credited with being the first to bring the issue of countryside access to a wider audience. Previous events had either been galvanising to local communities or to those campaigning for increased countryside access. Kinder changed that. This was arguably not through the effects of the trespass itself but through the official reaction to it, especially the harsh jail sentences handed out to the people involved.

kinder trespass - matt bowdenThe draconian punishments given to the ring leaders pushed countryside access into the national eye, far beyond its usual reach, helping creating a surge in interest. Although protests rallies had already been held at Winnat’s Pass (close to Kinder) for many years, the interest generated by the court cases saw crowds surge to over 10,000 in 1932. Many of the new attendees were reacting to what was seen as an example of a ruling class determined to stamp out any claim to the countryside by those in the industrial towns and cities.

Over the years the legend of the Kinder Mass Trespass grew, becoming the poster child for new generations of ramblers, angry with a lack of progress in achieving the aim of a Right to Roam. This is arguably the protest’s lasting legacy, providing a ‘foundation myth’ to spur on new protest movements throughout the 1900s. Although many of these movements never forgot the role of other protests, or the role of other organisations, in the access movement, the Kinder Mass Trespass was always the go-to event to help the public understand the context of their actions, especially in press reports.

The Case Against

tomstephensonAt the time of the protest almost all the leading access campaigners of the day were against it. The Rambers Association, the Open Spaces Society, and leading campaigners such as Tom Stephenson all opposed the protest. Many other stalwarts of the rambling establishment were also critical, claiming the after-effects the protest would set the movement back by decades. Many people involved in the access movement had been attempting to engage with government and landowners to change the laws regarding access to open countryside, and were fearful that the protest would set this back. Some of the criticisms bordered on sour grapes, criticising the protest for not reaching the actual summit of Kinder for example. The leaders of the trespass were also criticised for being agitators, rather than ‘true believers’ in the countryside access cause, seeing it a convenient excuse to engage in a bit of a ruckus with those in authority.

These arguments against have created a powerful counter-argument to the more commonly understood narrative of the primacy of the Kinder trespass’ role in opening up the countryside.

Protest vs Dialogue

The disagreements over the impact and legacy of the Kinder Mass Trespass point to a wider debate regarding the best method of achieving change: a process of dialogue and engagement with authority, or one of actively rebelling against that authority. Tom Stephenson is the epitome of the dialogue approach. Over decades he worked tirelessly to campaign for the political change needed to open up the countryside. He led organisations like the Ramblers Association, and worked as a civil servant, drawing up plans for the Acts pennine way sign - Andrew bowdenof Parliament needed to turn the outdoor access movement’s aims into reality. Many of the things we take for granted in our countryside now come as a direct result of Tom Stephenson’s (and many other’s) work – in particular National Trails and our National Parks (3), but he was also a key player in the groundwork for defining the Access Land that was finally approved through Parliament in the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, years after his passing. All involved in outdoor recreation owe Tom Stephenson a debt.

However, it’s also true to say that protest also plays an active role in delivering change, one that is often under-recognised. For a start, as with the Kinder protest, it brings issues to a much wider audience than they might otherwise achieve. A mass trespass event will always be a greater hook for the press to turn into column inches than the efforts of a civil servant sitting in Westminster defining terms like ‘open countryside’, however vital their work was (and is). Protest can have a galvanising effect, making clear the injustice, and helping promote the cause outside of the narrow interest-groups who initially raise any specific issue. Between the two approaches there needs to be better recognition of the ways each has helped push forwards countryside access, and fewer attempts to play down the achievements of others.

It’s a touch ironic that many of the official organisations that decried the Kinder Mass Trespass originally are now some of the biggest cheerleaders for its recognition – as witnessed by the tweet quoted at the start of this blog. Many in the Open Spaces Society now admit they were ‘on the wrong side’ in relation to the event, National Trust have a ‘Trespass Trail’ available for download. The Ramblers, led by Tom Stephenson for many years, promotes the efforts to preserve the story of the trespass, crediting its role in creating the right to roam. Even the current Duke of Devonshire, whose moorlands the Kinder protestors were fighting to open, admitted at the 2002 anniversary rally to remember the Kinder trespass that his family were on the wrong side of history! A cynic might suggest this is, at least partly, a symptom of the commoditisation of history – the Kinder Mass Trespass sells! But it’s also a reflect that, after time passes it’s easier to see that the efforts of both protestor and peace-maker were both instrumental in the long battle for access to our countryside – a battle not yet fully won!

For my part, as much as I thank those in the trespass for the role they played in securing greater access, I hope people like Tom Stephenson aren’t forgotten.

Don’t forget about the birds?

hen harrier - rob zweersAlmost as a post-script to this blog, there is a current issue that shows the ‘protest vs dialogue’ debate is not only still live – but also still relevant to many of the concerns of the Kinder trespass: protecting/accessing our countryside, the actions of landowners and the Peak District landscape. A recent blog post from the ex-Peak District Chief Executive Jim Dixon picks up on the issues surrounding the campaign for greater protection for the Hen Harrier. The article hands out a severe admonishing to the wildlife campaigner Chris Packham for committing the crime of becoming too passionate about the plight of the Hen Harrier. Chris apparently allowed his passion to spill over into counter-productive anger. Instead of Chris attending events to raise awareness of the issue, it is proposed he simply needs to get out onto the moors and start talk to game keepers – that’s the way progress lies. Through cooperation, communication.

Except, in many instances such an approach doesn’t work. Especially when it comes to Hen Harriers. For a few years campaigners have bemoaned the RSPB for precisely the opposite – for relying too much on cooperation and dialogue by taking part in the Government’s Hen Harrier Action Plan (the Hawk and Owl Trust have also been similarly criticised). However, after a sincere and committed attempt to work with this strategy, RSPB were left with no choice to pull out. You read more about why on Martin Harper’s blog post.

When the sheer determination of some stakeholders to resist change leads to organisations like as RSPB finding themselves unable to continue a dialogue the debate must be seen to be in a bad place. Such situations only serve to push ever larger groups to a more extreme, protest-based angle, as they see no other routes for meaning full progress. I hope, for the Hen Harrier’s benefit, some of the other key players, like the National Parks, DEFRA and others can see this and work positively. Rather than resorting to again distorting the debate by criticising campaigners who are starting to feel like all hope for a positive, consensus-based solution can work. With the Hen Harrier facing such a bleak future this is certainly this is an issue for anyone with a passion for our natural heritage to get involved in – regardless of whether your method of choice is protest or dialogue!

Footnotes / References

 (1) & (2) As an example the Winter Hill Mass Trespass was earlier (1896), bigger (well over 10,000 people) and more successful than the Kinder trespass (at least in the short term)

(3) This is why my own hackles are raised by some of the mythology surrounding the Kinder Mass Trespass – not because I don’t recognise its role, but because I want to see the role of people like Tom Stephenson given more credit!

Picture references: Kinder Trespass plaque via libraryems on Flickr; Kinder Waymarker via Andrew Bowden on Flickr; Tom Stehenson via Tricouni Club; Pennine Way fingerbord via Andrew Bowden on Flickr; Hen Harrier via Rob Zweers on Flickr.

 Some more reading on the Kinder Mass Trespass

Make up your own mind on the 1932 Kinder Mass Trespass with some of these sources!

Why don’t you pay?

Of the many threads to the debate between canoeists and anglers, one of the most common is the suggestion that anglers pay, while canoeists do not. “Why should canoeing be allowed on rivers when you won’t pay your way?” After all, anglers pay for a rod licence from the Environment Agency, and many (but by no means all) stretches of river have their angling rights bought or rented by fishing clubs – with the most choice locations fetching £1000s a year. So at first it seems like a reasonable question to ask.

But let’s have a look at the charge in more detail.

We pay a licence – why don’t you?

Let’s start with the Rod Licence – as it’s the only directly comparable aspect of what ‘canoeists pay’ vs what ‘anglers pay’. It is a legal requirement for all anglers to hold a rod licence to be able to fish – and an adult annual licence starts at £27 (a salmon licence however is a lot more at £72). So, if an angler was to stick to spots across the country where fishing is free (such as on Trent Embankment in Nottingham), £27 would be all they need to pay. Not many anglers realise that canoeists also pay a licence on the managed waterway network (canals and canalised rivers). The fees vary from one navigation authority to another, but as examples an annual licence for all the Canal & River Trust’s waterways costs £45, while it’s £35 for a Thames-only licence from the Environment Agency. Canoeists can get access to almost all managed waterways as British Canoeing members, which costs £45 a year. So, in terms of the actual licence, it is actually cheaper, and potentially covering a lot more of the country, to hold an angling licence than it is a canoeing licence.

Of course on many rivers there is no Navigation Authority and so no licence requirement for canoeists (although usually highly diputed Rights of Navigation). However, on these rivers the canoeist also gets nothing back (the River Wye being the notable exception to this rule, but for specific reasons). No put-in points or portages are provided. The river is not maintained for use (with blockages such as trees removed for example). Compare this with the money the Environment Agency reinvests into angling through the provision of it’s fishery services and it’s clear anglers are getting very specific benefits for their licence fees.

So, at its basic level:

  • Cost of canoeing per year, where a licence is required, nationally – £45
  • Cost of fishing per year, where a licence is required, nationally – £27

Ah – but many anglers pay large sums of money in club fees to access some waterways – canoeists don’t give the landowner anything!

Well, maybe, in many cases. However, club fees are dictated by the level of prestige for certain angling locations or clubs. And the actually can be very cheap – for example the Waterways Explorer scheme from Canal & River Trust only costs £20 a year, but gives access to a large network of angling locations across England. Added to the licence fee this still only comes to £47 a year – only £2 more than canoeists pay.

But what services are canoeists actually requiring from landowners for this? Nothing, essentially. They simply float on past. Anglers and their clubs pay anything from relatively small sums for some stretches of river up to eye-watering sums for others. However, in return for this the anglers are getting a variety of services that canoeists simply don’t get, need or want. This includes:

  • The right to drive onto, park, and occupy on private land to fish;
  • The ability to install angling pegs – platforms, steps and other infrastructure on private land;
  • Potentially installing new paths and drives to access remote pegs;
  • The exclusive right to fish on specific stretches of river/lakes.

Where canoeists do need to use land, for example at the points where they park and launch, they do also usually pay. This can be in the form of car parking fees, or launching fees for put-in points on private land. But comparing an activity which progresses down the river with one that operates at fixed points along it is not a fair comparison. Its akin to shooting participants challenging walkers for not paying to access Public Footpaths (yes, I know!).

This isn’t to accept that angling clubs and their members do a great amount to help look after their landlord’s land – and also contribute a great deal to maintaining the river environment too. However, it does show that drawing comparisons between the two sports is at best flawed, and in some cases sees canoeists actually paying more than anglers.

Right to Roll?

mamtorcyclist Paul Stephenson

British Cycling have recently launched their new campaign, asking for changes to footpath legislation to allow cycles, especially mountain bikes, to access more footpaths. You can read more about the campaign, including letters to the British and Welsh governments, on the campaign page on the British Cycling website.

Many cyclists will be pleased to see British Cycling taking a more active role in campaigning for mountain cycling, as it’s often criticised for neglecting this branch of the sport. Many areas of countryside, especially in the hills, could be great for mountain biking – but restrictive rules on who can access Public Footpaths mean they are effectively excluded from many areas.

RoW jealously protected

Our Rights of Way network, and the legislation and rules underpinning it, is jealously guarded by many organisations. And rightly so. Many groups (not least groups like Peak & Northern Footpaths Society, Open Spaces Society and what has become Ramblers) spent many years campaigning for these laws to be recognised and respected, with battles from the 1800s to restore and protect ancient footpaths. This battle continues to the present day, with landowners illegally closing footpaths. The legislation in place protects these routes – and so any suggestion of changes to these rules is treated with immense suspicion.

chesterfield canal - david morrisThere is also the issue of clashes between user groups on those routes that currently are shared between user groups. In the Peak District itself there have been issues between cyclists and other users on routes such as the Monsal Trail. The issue of cyclists on tow paths creates a huge amount of, often very acrimonious, debate on canal forums, with many calls for bikes to be banned. However, the fact cyclists are restricted in where they can go off road adds to these issues – increasing the routes available would help disperse people. It will therefore be interesting to see how many people react to British Cycling’s campaign.

There are other groups, both traditional users, those new and developing activities, and even ones that may at first not obviously rely on land-based Rights of Way. who would also benefit from either greater Shared Use of routes or opening of new works. Horse riders are subject to similar restrictions as cyclists, and would greatly benefit from a more liberal approach to developing routes for Shared Use. Sports like paragliding rely on footpaths to access areas to launch themselves – with ambiguity on the legality of this. Canoeists could use waterside footpaths to not only walk to the water, but also to launch onto rivers and lakes.

Part of the difficulty for many of these groups is ambiguity in terms such as ‘reasonable use’ (see CTC’s page on reasonable use), and ‘natural accompanyments’. This creates differences of opinion regarding, for example, whether carrying a kayak consitutes a natual accompanyment for a water-side footpath – or whether launching from the path is a reasonable use. With relatively little case law this is left to user groups, landowners, conservationsists and others to understand as best as they can – with as many different interpretations as there are users!

Though it was regarded as a giant leap forward at the time, and was the result of over a century of campaigning, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (known as CROW 2000) effectively left many of these questions unanswered (and that’s before touching upon the decision to actively exclude canoeing from the Act!). As time progresses and new outdoor sports grow these issues become more and more exposed. In Scotland, such issues were given much greater clarity, and access secured for more groups to a much wider range of the countryside with a stronger Access Code. Paradoxically this has actually resulted in a reduction of issues between user groups (especially regarding the often toxic debate between canoeists and anglers) as everyone understands not only their rights, but also their responsibilities.

It would be great to see England and Wales moving towards a more Scottish system of countryside access – and it’s good to see a positive initial response to British Cycling’s campaign from Ramblers. For an move to greater Shared Use (and the creation of new and updated rights and responsibilities), I believe the government should support the outdoor sector to develop an approach which combines as many of the following objectives as possible:

  • Ensures the continued protection of Rights of Way;
  • Works to increase Shared Use on routes which appropriate;
  • Engages landowners to give reassurance on liability and to promote Permissive Bridleways;
  • Develop a strong access code
  • Use groups such as Local Access Forums to continue developing partnership between users.
  • Allow flexibility in approach to fit to local circumstances (e.g. lack of routes for any user group, suitability of routes for Shared Use etc).

 

 

(Picture credit – Mam Tor Cyclist, Paul Stephenson on Flickr; Chesterfield Canal, David Morris on Flickr)

A historic tour of the Peak

IMG_20160106_174328786A little while ago, while rummaging around on eBay, I picked this cool little guidebook to the Peak District. It was published by the Manchester Evening News in 1934, with the author given as simply ‘The Rambler’. I can’t see any indication as to who this mysterious (hopefully caped) hiking-superhero is – surely this is before even the great Roly Smith’s time though?! The introduction gives a little description showing some of the access context of the day however – apologising to landowners in advance for any transgressions in the routes and giving some token effort to encouraging readers to comply with any requests to divert from the shown route if requested. Maybe this was why the author’s name must be kept slightly underwraps?

I haven’t had time to read too deeply into the routes and see how they match up to modern walks. The descriptions and maps don’t link great in the text, making a skim read difficult. Check out the note to this effect in the image advising the reader to, ‘see map elsewhere’! They didn’t go overboard on the clues as to where… It’s also a touch fragile in its old age, so I’ve been trying to be gentle with it.

One route that did jump out however was a great plan for a multi-day hike across the Peak. Most of the shorter routes in the book get a full description, whereas each day on the tour gets only a basic paragraph. But this gives plenty of scope for adapting it to the modern path network around the region.

IMG_20160106_174354105
7 Day Tour of the Peak from 1934 ‘Rambles in the Peak District’ book

I’d love to have the time to walk this route as a long-distance walk, and update it with new directions. I considered making it a new year resolution, but that would only damn it to failure! It does look a great hike though, taking in a broad sweep of the best bits of the Peak. These days you might need to rebadge it as a White Peak tour – it doesn’t stray north of the Great Ridge’s dividing line between White & Dark Peaks.

What does anyone think? Can you suggest potential routes to keep this faithful but but to date? Would a new tour take in the Dark Peak too – or do we just need a second tour for that?!