Relief for ramblers as footpaths finally reopen

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Thousands of miles of footpaths closed since the start of the foot-and-mouth crisis will reopen today, providing a fillip to the tourist industry and relief to frustrated ramblers.

Thousands of miles of footpaths closed since the start of the foot-and-mouth crisis will reopen today, providing a fillip to the tourist industry and relief to frustrated ramblers.

All but eight English counties have been forced to lift blanket bans on access to footpaths introduced six months ago as a draconian measure to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will allow temporary bans to continue in areas still affected by the disease – Cumbria and parts of Durham, Devon, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Lancashire and North Yorkshire. In addition, two-mile exclusion zones will remain in force around infected farms.

But councils that have maintained right-of-way closures since the start of the epidemic had them automatically lifted at midnight last night. A second stage next Friday will feature the opening of footpaths in Lincolnshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire, where local authorities have been criticised for their reluctance to reopen rights of way.

The revocation of blanket bans follows pressure from the Government in reaction to concerns that county councils were dragging their heels over granting public access to rural areas.

Several local authorities have been accused of bowing to pressure from farmers and other landowners who, it is claimed, seized on the ban to restrict the public's right of way.

Until recently Lincolnshire has reopened only 20 per cent of its 4,000 rights of way although the county is free of foot-and-mouth. Ninety per cent of the footpaths in the East Riding of Yorkshire have been closed during the epidemic. Other disease-free counties have lifted most of their bans in response to pressure from the tourist industry and ramblers.

The Ramblers' Association welcomed the decision to boost public access from 76 per cent to 85 per cent of the countryside. A spokeswoman said: "Since the outbreaks began, successive veterinary risk assessments have found that only paths in the immediate vicinity of infected premises need to remain closed. None of the 1,800 or so cases of the disease in Britain has been attributed to path users."

The move coincides with the start of the school holidays in England and is likely to boost tourism, in particular hotels and guesthouses in rural areas.

In response to the announcement, the English Tourism Council predicted losses to the industry previously forecast at 10 per cent, or up to £2bn this year, would be less. Ken Kelling of the ETC said: "The closure of footpaths has been one of the key factors which has put people off visiting the countryside. The confusion over what is open or closed has made that worse but we are hoping this weekend will signal a turning point."

In Wales, which is not affected by yesterday's measures, restrictions remain in force in affected areas of Powys although about 63 per cent of footpaths are open.

Comments