The right to roam is an epic victory

Share

The passage of the Countryside Bill into law last week is the biggest victory for Britain's landscape and wildlife - and for people's enjoyment of them - in at least half a century. It provides the strongest protection ever for threatened species and habitats, provides tougher safeguards for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and - most significant of all - at long last gives the people of this nation the right to roam freely over its wildest countryside.

The passage of the Countryside Bill into law last week is the biggest victory for Britain's landscape and wildlife - and for people's enjoyment of them - in at least half a century. It provides the strongest protection ever for threatened species and habitats, provides tougher safeguards for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and - most significant of all - at long last gives the people of this nation the right to roam freely over its wildest countryside.

The right to roam, which opens up four million acres of mountain, heath, down and common land to the public for the first time, is an epic victory after more than a century of struggle. Landowners have fought this reform all the way. Even in the Countryside Bill's final stages, Tories in the House of Lords were still introducing wrecking amendments. The debates resonated with the outrage of the landed gentry that ordinary people should be allowed to disturb their private preserves. Lord Onslow warned that "nerds in anoraks" would ruin the "joy" of shooting grouse. The Earl of Shrewsbury called it "a charter for criminals" and other peers said it would lead to "drug parties", "devil worship" and "supermarket trolleys" in the hills. Their reaction speaks volumes for the resilience of the class system that so bedevils Britain.

For a while it also had Tony Blair in thrall. In one of the less creditable episodes of his premiership, he blocked the measure for months - after being lobbied by the Country Landowners Association - despite having promised it, in writing, before the election. At one stage he even forbade ministers to use the words "the right to roam", and pushed for more of the voluntary-access measures that have so singularly failed over the past 50 years. We owe the new law not to his half-heartedness but to the patient persistence of Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, and the downright determination of backbench MPs who threatened the biggest revolt of the Parliament if the promise were broken.

But now it is time to celebrate. Despite everything, the Government has ultimately proved true to its principles - reason enough for three wholehearted (if rather relieved) cheers. It is a victory not just for common land, but for common sense. May there be many more.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London