LEADING ARTICLE: Pride and prejudice against ramblers

Share
Related Topics
Militant ramblers are everywhere. Even Elizabeth Bennet, wasp- waisted and full-bodiced, disdaining a carriage and marching through open country in Sunday's episode of Pride and Prejudice, calls to mind the issue of the trespass laws. Her insistence on walking recalls a time when England's countryside was a freer place for those who prefer to use their legs.

Earlier the same day, the scene was another literary landscape: Haworth moor, also known as Wuthering Heights, was chosen by Janet Street-Porter, the Ramblers' Association president, to lead the latest protest at restrictions on the walker's right to roam. Ms Street-Porter has more in common with Elizabeth's loud mother, Mrs Bennet - all vexation (particularly at impossible men). But she is articulating a case which commands increasingly wide support.

At a rough estimate, 20 million people count walking as a hobby, even though few can bear to be called ramblers. Behind the vanguard of the signed-up, official campaigners stands an army of quiet strollers. They know that much of Britain's countryside has become out of bounds since the 19th century. Land where people customarily enjoyed access has been closed off. There is, in popular anger at prohibited lands, the vestiges of historic resentment at the enclosure movement and the privileges that the aristocracy has claimed over the countryside.

To date, much of the campaigning has focused on keeping open 140,000 miles of public footpaths The preservation of records means that they can be protected from encroaching farmland and building development. But now the campaign has moved on. The Labour Party, its populist instincts well honed, has promised to back a right to roam over mountains, moors and open country.

Scotland already has a traditional "right to roam". In Scandinavia every person enjoys a similar freedom, known as allemanstrat. Italy gives a right to walk in open country - based on the freedom traditionally allowed to hunters. In Greece a farmer is more likely to greet walkers with coffee and oranges than a twelve-bore. Only, it seems, in England and Wales is entry forbidden to so much of the rural landscape. Indeed the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act has introduced even more draconian laws: for the first time trespass has become a criminal, rather than merely a civil, offence for someone entering private property with intent to disrupt the legal activity of the owner.

Landowners do have good arguments in favour of certain restrictions. Crops need protection, as does wildlife, particularly during the breeding season. There are shooting and hunting rights which owners are entitled to have respected.

But a right to roam as envisaged by the current campaign would contain safeguards on these points. True, landowners would face expense in signposting areas still subject to restriction. But this is hardly a good enough reason to resist the ramblers. Provided the right to roam is appropriately qualified, it is a right whose time has come.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Note to footballers: doing the right thing is more than a PR job

Simon Barnes
 

The royal dress code can't cloak Prince Charles

Joan Smith
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin