Right to roam campaigners have staged a mass trespass near the England-Scotland border calling for the Westminster Government to adopt the same land reform laws as the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish residents can legally wander over almost all land and inland waters provided they follow certain basic rules such as removing all their belongings – a practice known as leave no trace.
Private gardens, cropland and areas of nature that are particularly sensitive remain out of bounds, though wild camping is permitted on other land, with these rights having been granted by legislation passed in 2003.
In England, right of free access covers 8% of the country, excluding footpaths, and wild camping is illegal everywhere except a small area in Dartmoor, which was temporarily taken away earlier this year when a local landowner argued for its prohibition at the High Court.
North of Carlisle along an historic stretch of the border called the Debatable Lands, campaigners from the Right to Roam group trespassed through boggy woodland to meet their Scottish counterparts coming legally from the other side.
They hiked along a fern and moss-soaked dike before performing a ceremony where the Scottish roamers passed a copy of their Land Reform Act to their English colleagues.
Guy Shrubsole, one of the founders of Right to Roam, said introducing a right to roam law in England would give more people access to nature with the associated benefits that brings.
He said: “I think that’d be really brilliant for public health in terms of physical and mental health.
“We saw during lockdowns how important access to green space was, but also how unequal access was – people who weren’t able to get out and didn’t have private gardens or weren’t able to get out into the countryside.”
The campaigners then trekked through a sodden field to the edge of a stream, greeted by a man playing bagpipes on a small rise.
Nadia Shaikh, representing the English side, and Adhamh O Broin, representing the Scottish, waded into the water and exchanged a slug of beer and whisky before pouring the remainder into the stream in a small sacrificial ceremony.
Harry Jenkinson, who has been with the group since its inception, said: “We’re not doing this as protests, they are celebrations of the land. It’s a coming together of people with respect for the rights of the countryside.
“We don’t just want access to the land. We want to be empowering people who would not normally be out, people who do not normally feel safe there.”
Right to Roam was founded in 2020 after seeing rights of access closed off during lockdown, Mr Jenkinson said, adding that river pollution has become a big issue since then as people are seeing it more often.
The group is encouraging more people to spend time in nature, so they then want to protect it, and is currently showing posters and artwork from one of the group’s founders, Nick Hayes, in around 100 Lush stores on UK high streets.
Mr Shrubsole said: “I think lockdown was a very unusual, I hope unique, set of circumstances.
“We’ve got to remember that during Covid-19 people couldn’t go on holiday abroad, there were no festivals, didn’t even have pubs open for large periods of time.
“That led to certain things like festival behaviours being visited upon the countryside and obviously that’s horrible to see – it’s often only a very small minority of people who end up spoiling things.
“But equally, there are a small minority of people who drive dangerously, we don’t ban everyone from the roads.
“What we’re calling for is a right of responsible access, we are talking very much about responsibilities going hand in hand with an extension of rights.
“And at the heart of that has to be public education.”