Walk on by

Head to head Should there be a legal right to roam across open land - or does our countryside need protecting? Rambler Kate Ashbrook takes on farmer Ian MacNicol
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Pro-right-to-roam

"It's really sad that one can't walk and feel free and welcome on the land. I ramble in the Chilterns, but not far away there's the Earl of Macclesfield who owns land on the ridge of the Chilterns and we know very well that we can only walk down the footpath there - we do roam on to the hills but we're not meant to and we know that he doesn't like it. We're not asking to go wherever we want. We're asking for access to uncultivated land by right, but we've never said we wanted to be able to walk all over farm fields. I'm afraid they just spread these myths and rumours, smear tactics. People who go out for a walk in the countryside to enjoy it are not people who are going to cause trouble. In fact, they're very nervous about going where they have no right. We've got members who'll walk around the edge of a field because the path across has got a crop on it: the farmer had stolen the path. People are worried about upsetting landowners - we're still a nation of forelock-tuggers.

You would think that landowners, under pressure from the Government to deliver voluntary access, would come up with access that was useful and significant. But they've been having money from the Countryside Commission for this for the past 18 months and if you look up their website listing where you can roam a whole lot of it is not accessible for walkers and riders: it is access for hunting and shooting, pick-your-own farms. The Country Landowners Association is trying to con the public. Any access they give is going to be so limited and temporary that it's worthless."

Kate Ashbrook is chairman of the Ramblers Association Access Committee. For information on events in tomorrow's National Access Day, call 0171-339 8556

Anti-right-to-roam

"A right to roam is unnecessary and is not wanted by the greater amount of the population. I farm in north Norfolk. We have by tradition let local people take their horses over the farm. About three years ago I opened up a new horse ride around the estate, a proper conducted horse ride away from mechanical operations and livestock, and that has worked exceptionally well. For people who want to walk their dogs, we are introducing next spring a four-acre patch of woodland which will be fenced off, and we are just creating, in conjunction with the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, a new permitted path of about 10 miles around the estate. The local ramblers walked it recently and were very appreciative. There have to be very strict rules about where you can walk, particularly when people don't quite understand what they're walking over.

We in the CLA think that voluntary managed access is the correct way through. In a recent [Gallup] poll, people wanted access in countryside close to the major conurbations. So opening up the moorland, heathland and downland is not actually going to give the people what they want. What they want is access to countryside within a few miles of where they live. That's what the CLA is providing and will continue to provide. We're talking about the proposal the Government is considering, to walk over 'open countryside', but it's quite difficult for your average person to distinguish between that sort of land and other, farmed, land. You have to carry landowners and farmers with you. If you force them to do something they don't want to do, there will be conflict."

Ian MacNicol is president of the Country Landowners Association

Interviews by Veronica Groocock

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