The right to ramble on

David Foster assesses the impact of new footpaths

Freedom to roam. Whenever landowners and ramblers talk about access, those three words are sure to make the feathers fly. For most of this century ramblers have been pressing for a statutory right to roam over open, uncultivated countryside in England and Wales; and landowners, pointing to the practical difficulties, have consistently opposed their proposals.

The Country Landowners Association (CLA), whose members own 60 per cent of the rural land in England and Wales, believes that the time has come for a less adversarial approach. To them, countryside recreation means more than just walking; they recently asked more than 60 interested organisations (including canoeists, anglers, cyclists and all-wheel-drive enthusiasts) for input into their Access 2000 policy.

The Ramblers' Association's Director, Alan Mattingly, while welcoming the proposals for more space to roam, sees "the primary aim of Access 2000 as an attempt by landowners to head off any moves... to legislate for freedom to walk over mountain and moorland".

Still, actions speak louder than words, and some landowners have already created "permissive paths" on their estates. These allow free public access, usually for a defined period of up to 10 years, whilegiving landowners far more freedom to manage their estates profitably.

Even the best new paths aren't much use if nobody knows where they are. The Ordnance Survey is to show more access information on its Landranger maps. The larger-scale Pathfinder series is also due for a major revamp, and some some long-term permissive paths will be added.

The estate owner

Barn owls breed on Robin Combe's estate at Bayfield, just a couple of miles inland from Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast. There are otters in the river and butterflies in the park.

A different owner might try to keep people out, but Mr Combe, a CLA member, says: "Anybody who doesn't open as much of their estate as they possibly can is making a huge mistake. Most ramblers have the interests of the countryside at heart; they're the people we have to enlist on our side to help protect it."

These aren't just empty words. He has so far opened up free access to four miles of permissive footpaths at Bayfield, and has 10 miles of riding track paid for by annual subscription.

But his work has implications beyond the estate's boundaries, for North Norfolk's internationally important scenery and wildlife are under threat from the sheer number of visitors. The Norfolk Coast Project, a joint Countryside Commission and local authority initiative, aims toencourage holidaymakers to sample some of the area's less vulnerable habitats. Project Officer Graeme Hayes sees Bayfield's initiative as a positive step; "Visitors' cars are a real problem on the coast," he says. "Getting people to explore inland areas on foot is an ideal solution."

It's a concept that seems to work well for everyone. "In the three years we've had these access paths," says Mr Combe, "we've had nothing but goodwill, pleasure and a great deal of satisfaction for a lot of people. I'm thrilled we've done it."

The farmer

In 1468 an English army under the command of the Earl of Pembroke was marching to lay siege to Harlech Castle. Near journey's end, the soldiers swept down the Nantcol valley, crossing the land now grazed by John Wynne's sheep.

Other feet now tramp these hills, and Mr Wynne is delighted to see them. "They're all nice people," he says, "but what they don't realise is that when you come into this sort of a place it is potentially hazardous". Time and again he gets called out to help rescue lost or injured walkers who have strayed off the footpaths and come to grief on the precipitous mountain slopes above his farm at Glyn Artro, near Lianbedr.

The solution, thinks John, is for the National Park Authority to waymark the more popular walks, and to publish maps of the routes, graded for difficulty. Yet there is already a plethora of guidebooks and leaflets.

The authority has recently completed the first-ever survey of all Snowdonia's footpaths and bridleways. Less than a third of them meet all the legal requirements for public use, but essential remedial work is under way. However, high-intensity waymarking might engender a false sense of security. National Park wardens would prefer to see walkers navigating safely with map and compass.

But, with no clear consensus on how inexperienced walkers can best enjoy the mountains, many landowners are worried about their legal liability when accidents do happen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory