Landowners fear losing `right to roam' fight

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BRITAIN'S LANDOWNERS fear they are losing the public relations battle over the "right to roam" issue, internal documents from the Country Landowners' Association (CLA) have revealed.

They said that if they did not soon "neutralise" the campaign by the Ramblers' Association, the Government would bring in a legally enforceable, rather than a voluntary, right of access to privately owned mountains, moors, heaths, downs and commons. To show that voluntary access was working, the CLA asked its 50,000 members to publicise sites available, and is hoping to register 2,000 of them on its Web site.

It further wants landowners who are contemplating new access arrangements to notify their local authority, and copy the letter to their MP.

"If we cannot provide the ammunition our sympathisers in Parliament need, we shall be stuck with a right to roam," Ian MacNicol, the CLA president, said in a confidential letter to county branch chairmen, seen by The Independent.

A covering note, written by a regional official, pointed out: "There is beginning to be serious concern that we are losing the PR battle over the `right to roam'. We know that many many landowners are creating public access ... but because it is not being publicised, it does not, as far as the ramblers are concerned, exist."

Mr MacNicol's letter followed a testy exchange on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme with Kate Ashbrook, from the Ramblers' Association, on the subject.

"I am furious when the Ramblers' Association gets away with unjustified accusations in radio interviews," Mr MacNicol wrote. "There would be no better comeback than to ram a list of access initiatives down her throat."

He told members: "To get the Government to give the voluntary approach a chance to prove itself, we have to neutralise the campaign being waged in the press by supporters of a `right to roam'. We have to give the Government the confidence to reassure its own MPs that the voluntary approach is already working."

Yesterday, Kate Ashbrook said that the CLA was "desperate" and seemed "to be admitting defeat".