Wales to Get Scottish Style Right to Roam?

Did you know that you don't actually have a legal right to climb on the sea cliffs at Gogarth? Have you ever run into no entry signs while out in the Welsh hills? Well change may be afoot. The Welsh government is currently reviewing legislation surrounding access and outdoor recreation. This could fundamentally affect access rights in the countryside, and might even result in a blanket freedom to roam similar to the much envied Scottish system. 

The forbidden valley of Blaen y Cwm - out of bounds to the public, 141 kb
The forbidden valley of Blaen y Cwm - out of bounds to the public
© John Appleby

The Welsh government believes there's an appetite for greater opportunities for outdoor recreation, whether that's on hills, coastline and waterways or closer to home in local communities. The existing provision for access in the countryside is a mishmash of strictly delineated Open Access land, rights of way, permissive paths and plain old fashioned trespass.

'There is ...consensus amongst local authorities, land managers, and user groups that the current legislation is out-dated, disjointed, burdensome to administer, and often difficult to comprehend' they say.

'This is why we have announced a review of existing legislation and guidance relating to access and outdoor recreation.'

'Our aim is to secure better access to the outdoors for recreation, modernise and simplify the current regulatory framework, and provide clarity and certainty over where people can go and what they can do there.'

The review is taking place in discussion with interested parties across local authorities, user groups such as the BMC, and land owning interests. Members of the public will be able to have a say on proposals emerging from this review when a green paper consultation is published in December 2013.

Meanwhile as one of the key stake holder groups the BMC has been busy on our behalf, and has been involved in a number of workshops, meetings and seminars with officials from the Welsh Government over the autumn months. 

'People familiar with the law surrounding public access to the countryside will know that Scotland has a very different system to England and Wales' writes Elfyn Jones, Access and Conservation Officer (Wales) on the BMC's website.

'In Scotland the law guarantees “a statutory right of responsible access to land and inland waters for recreation”; in simple terms, you can go where you want provided you behave. In England and Wales, however, rights are much more limited. If land is not designated as ‘Open Access’ – principally mountain, moor, heath, down and common land – you do not have a right to be there unless on a right of way or permissive path.'

'Currently there [are] areas of land in Wales of great value to climbers and hill walkers which are technically only accessible by trespass or de facto (or tolerated) access, such as most of the sea cliffs, crags on private woodlands, outcrops on enclosed or semi-enclosed land or land on mountains and moorland that is not mapped as open access.'

'In Wales, at least, that could be about to change.'

Elfyn's article explains what's going on and its possible implications. Read it in full on the BMC website 

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