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New trespass proposals put countryside access at risk

British Canoeing has joined with other leading outdoor organisations to write to the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Defra to express serious concerns about the government’s proposal to change trespass rules. 

The new rules could have a significant impact on access to the countryside, something which with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, is more important now than ever before.

Last year we shared this article in response to a Conservative Party manifesto commitment which aims to ‘criminalise intentional trespass’. We also submitted a robust response to the public consultation on police powers, which can be found here

The latest letter has been written in conjunction with other leading organisations including The Ramblers, Open Spaces Society, British Mountaineering Council, CPRE, the countryside charity,  Friends of the Earth and Cycling UK.

The Full letter can be found here.

From paddlesports to swimming, rowing to angling, more people than ever before are wanting to enjoy the outdoors and our rivers for recreation. The Covid-19 crisis has brought this into even sharper focus as we all seek space to be physically active for our own wellbeing. The health of our nation is closely linked to that of the environment around us.

We believe Government should be considering how to improve access to the countryside and simplifying rules surrounding this. In England and Wales, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW Act) established a right to roam over registered common land and mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath and down, as well as parts of the coast. In the longer term, the UK government should be considering how it can enable more people to benefit from the freedom to explore our green and blue spaces, not introducing barriers to access.

Here is a summary of our main concerns:

  • The Government's manifesto stated ‘we will make intentional trespass a criminal offence’. It is our view that this an illiberal and unnecessary attack on ancient freedoms that would have a negative effect on how people can access and enjoy the countryside.  Such a move would be out of touch with the public mood, particularly as more people are visiting the countryside due to Covid-19. 

A petition ‘Don’t criminalise trespass’ on the UK Government and Parliament website gained 134,928 signatures, showing the level of public opposition.

  • An unintended consequence of changes to legislation, if framed insufficiently tightly, may be to give landowners the chance to criminalise harmless and often accidental trespass. This should not apply for instance, to walkers or cyclists who stray off a public right of way or to those who cross private land to pass an obstruction. Paddlers and swimmers may also face greater threats of criminal proceedings against their peaceful enjoyment of the water.  Fundamentally, it would send a signal that the countryside is not accessible to all, but a place of complex rules and regulations where those partaking in recreational activities such as walking, cycling, climbing or canoeing in the countryside may be at risk of committing a crime.

  • Proposals would also threaten ‘wild’ camping, responsible and short-term ‘van camping’ or rest stops on long journeys (which should be encouraged in preventing accidents) by individuals or small groups, and risk criminalising other informal activities.

  • The creation, implementation and enforcement of new powers is likely to be a costly exercise for the public purse, with uncertain outcomes of monitoring and enforcement.  Government priority should instead be to make our countryside easy and accessible for all. Promoting outdoor recreation and access to the outdoors is essential in tackling physical inactivity and the mental health crisis as well as helping to raise awareness of the value of our natural environment. 

British Canoeing will continue to work in partnership with other organisations to ensure our access to the countryside for enjoyment is not eroded or criminalised.  You can also help by writing to your MP.

You can also help our campaign for fair, shared, sustainable open access to water in England & Wales by signing our petition and also becoming a CACW Campaigner here.